Revised national air pollution standards would do little to reduce pollution from coal-fired power stations or improve health outcomes for thousands of Hunter residents, Environment Justice Australia says.
State and federal environment ministers last week amended existing standards for ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide emissions.
The pollutants are among the most common toxins produced from coal-fired power plants.
Research over the last decade has shown the health effects of NOx and related gases sulphur dioxide (SO2) and Ozone (O3) are more severe than first thought.
The National Environment Protection Council said the new standards, which it described as 'among the tightest in the world' would help protect the community from the pollutants.
In the case of sulfur dioxide, the council brought forward reporting standards that were due to be introduced in 2021.
However, Environment Justice Australia slammed the new standards, labelling them a "industry first, community last" approach to air pollution.
"Despite health advice, the new 24-hour standard for SO2 is almost three times higher than recommended by the World Health Organisation. Similarly, the new annual standard for NO2 is set at a level 25 percent higher than the highest recorded annual concentrations of NO2 pollution in Australia, ensuring that the standard is set too high to drive any reduction in pollution," Environment Justice Australia said.
"Yet we know health impacts are happening at current air pollution levels."
In its determination the The National Environment Protection Council acknowledged that adverse health impacts could still occur at concentrations below the new standards.
"Ministers also considered that for many of the pollutants there is no identified threshold below which adverse health effects are not observed which means there will be health benefits in continuing to pursue concentrations below the standards," the council said.
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Lung Foundation Australia chief executive Mark Brooke said the new standards would not encourage polluters to reduce emissions.
"We know that poor air quality can lead to many different health effects, from heart disease (heart attacks, heart failure, high blood pressure) and lung disease (lung cancer, chronic lung disease, poorer lung function) to stroke and diabetes," he said.
"And we know that the cleaner our air, the lower the risks of developing poor health outcomes. These new standards do nothing to encourage polluters to reduce emissions and so the health, economic and climate impacts - such as more extreme weather events, increases in respiratory illnesses - will continue to occur."
The Upper Hunter area was significantly higher than every other region for fine particulates, nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide," a study, published in the April 2019 edition of the Journal of Rural Health, found.
The review of ambient air pollutants is occurring 21 years after Australia's national air pollution standards were introduced.
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