The top 10 most polluted postcodes in Australia are all in regional areas where mining or coal are big industries, new data analysis shows.
National environment group the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) has found the worst places for air pollution where big industrial facilities operate are in rural and regional areas.
Using data from the federal government's National Pollutant Inventory, ACF has revealed six of the top 10 postcodes for poor air quality are home to coal-fired power stations or coal mines.
The most polluted postcodes in Australia ranked:
- Mount Isa, Qld
- Newman, WA
- Muswellbrook, NSW
- Tom Price, WA
- Traralgon, Vic
- Gladstone, Qld
- Stanwell, Qld
- Collie, WA
- Tarong, Qld
- Kalgoorlie, WA
What is air pollution?
The National Pollutant Inventory requires Australia's large industrial facilities to report data for certain pollutants every year.
ACF found the air in Muswellbrook in the NSW Hunter Valley, Traralgon in Victoria's Latrobe Valley, Queensland's Gladstone on the Great Barrier Reef, Stanwell and Tarong, and Collie in Western Australia, contained five dangerous pollutants.
These were coarse particles, fine particles, sulphur dioxide, mercury and nitrogen oxides.
Research has linked coal pollution to a number of chronic illnesses like black lung disease, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and lung cancer.
Doctors for the Environment Australia convener Dr Ben Ewald said these pollutants could also interfere with foetal growth during pregnancy, and there was evidence of a cognitive decline and dementia.
"It's very difficult at the individual level for people to do anything about it," he said.
How to avoid exposure to air pollution
"If you're really aware of pollution in your local area then on the worst pollution days, you can do things like stay indoors and keep the doors and windows shut. And there may be some benefit from running a fine particle filter inside your house.
"At a collective level, we could stop burning coal," Dr Ewald said.
"It makes sense in terms of human health and air pollution, it makes sense in terms of climate change."
ACF's economy and democracy program manager Matthew Rose said air pollution killed about 3000 Australians each year and worsened conditions such as asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and other respiratory diseases.
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Mr Rose said the direct health impacts were worse for vulnerable groups, such as children and older people.
Australia's air pollution standards were fragmented and weaker than the standards recommended by the World Health Organisation, he said.
Calls for new national air quality standards
The key to reducing air pollution and tackling climate change was closing coal-fired power stations, Mr Rose said.
"But without a federal plan to manage the transition, the changes will be highly disruptive for certain communities," Mr Rose said.
"Australia needs new, nationally consistent air quality standards and a coherent national plan to manage the inevitable shift to a clean energy future."
Coal-fired power territory
AGL's Bayswater coal-fired power station in Muswellbrook, NSW - the third most polluted postcode in Australia - was responsible for emitting 33.2 million kg of nitrogen oxides, 46.2 million kg of sulphur dioxide, and 108.4 kg of mercury in the 2021 reporting period.
And while the company's electricity generation at that site dropped over that time, mercury emissions increased by 81 per cent, sulphur dioxide emissions increased by 29 per cent, and its nitrogen oxides emissions increased by 17 per cent.
A spokeswoman for AGL Liddell and Bayswater said it continued to work cooperatively with all environmental agencies to ensure compliance with environmental and regulatory obligations.
She said AGL was taking action on decarbonisation and used specialised equipment, including baghouses - which are industrial dust collectors - to actively reduce particulate matter released.
"For Accel Energy, we have brought forward the closure windows for our coal-fired power stations to 2030-2033 for Bayswater," the spokeswoman said.
"We are committed to the regions in which we operate and continue to progress our plans to transform our thermal generation sites into low carbon integrated industrial energy hubs that will support the decarbonisation of Australian industry."
Air quality standards already "robust": mining industry
Minerals Council Australia chief executive Tania Constable said Australia had one of the most stringent air quality standards in the world.
"'Air quality management within the mining industry is already robust," she said.
Ms Constable said monitoring, selective timing of different activities to suit climatic conditions and dust suppression were key activities on mine sites.
She said the mining industry worked closely with communities and governments to reduce its contribution to regional air conditions, and emissions generated from mining were heavily regulated and managed in line with local environmental contexts.