HUNTER coal-fired power station centres at Lake Macquarie and Muswellbrook are in the world's top 100 hotspots for damaging sulphur dioxide air pollution, an analysis of NASA satellite data released today shows.
Greenpeace has called for federal and state governments to dramatically improve air pollution standards and speed the switch to renewable energy after releasing a report showing the Hunter and parts of Queensland and Victoria have some of the world's highest sulphur dioxide pollution levels, but no enforced standards on power station sulphur dioxide emissions.
Lake Macquarie's Vales Point and Eraring power stations emitted 111 kilotonnes of sulphur dioxide in 2018 and Liddell and Bayswater power stations emitted 91 kilotonnes for the year, placing them at 79 and 91 of the world's top 100 sulphur dioxide-emitting centres, the Greenpeace analysis of NASA data found.
Sulphur dioxide emissions are a significant contributor to air pollution and harmful to human health, particularly to people with impaired heart and lung function.
The Hunter centres produced less sulpur dioxide in 2018 than Queensland's Mt Isa at 207 kilotonnes and Victoria's Latrobe Valley at 151 kilotonnes.
The world's worst emitting centre is the Norilsk smelter region of Russia which emitted 1898 kilotonnes of sulphur dioxide in 2018, compared with 714 kilotonnes for the second highest-emitting centre in South Africa, the NASA data showed.
The Greenpeace report found volcanoes contributed 40 per cent of the world's sulphur dioxide emissions in 2018, with man-made coal use making up 31 per cent of emissions, followed by oil and gas at 19 per cent.
Power stations burning coal and oil along with refineries are responsible for two-thirds of the man-made sulphur dioxide emissions tracked by NASA, Greenpeace said.
While India, Russia and China had the highest total country emissions figures in 2018, India and China had both moved to reduce air pollution by enacting sulphur dioxide emissions limits from coal-fired power stations and installing flue-gas sulfurization technology, the report found.
Action in both countries means coal-burning power stations in Australia are licensed to emit up to eight times more sulphur dioxide than old power stations in China, Greenpeace Australia Pacific campaigner Jonathan Moylan said.
"Air pollution is the price our communities pay for the Federal Government's failure to stand up to big polluters," Mr Moylan said.
"It's time for state environment ministers to show leadership by championing health-based sulphur and nitrogen dioxide standards, strong pollution limits for industry and speeding up the switch to clean renewable energy"
The Greenpeace report found air pollution emissions from power stations continues to increase in India, Saudi Arabia and Iran, while emissions in Russia, South Africa, Mexico and Turkey are "currently not increasing, but there is not a lot of progress in tackling them either".
"Transitioning towards cleaner air in these countries is stunted by a high reliance on coal and oil, weak emission standards and a lack of enforcement," Mr Moylan said.
The World Health Organisation in 2016 found 4.2 million people around the world each year die prematurely from outdoor air pollution. More than 90 per cent of the world's population lives in areas exceeding WHO air quality guidelines.
The NSW Government's most recently published Upper Hunter air quality monitoring report, for summer 2018-19, found levels of sulphur dioxide were below benchmark concentrations of hourly 20 parts per hundred million, and daily 8 parts per hundred million.
The report, released in May, said air quality in the Upper Hunter areas of Muswellbrook and Singleton between December, 2018 and the end of February, 2019 was "good to fair".
There is no comparable Lake Macquarie air quality monitoring report. Air quality monitoring of population centres near Vales Point and Eraring power stations relies on figures from Wyong, Newcastle and Wallsend.