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NSW EPA to require Mt Piper continuously monitor pollutant emissions (Lithgow Mercury)

By Phoebe Moloney

The NSW Environment Protection Authority has signalled it will be altering Mt Piper’s licence to bring it up to standard with the air pollution requirements placed on all other coal fired power stations in the state.

Currently Mt Piper is the only station in NSW not required to conduct continuous monitoring of pollutants it emits known to harm human health, including particulate matter, Nitrogen Oxides and Sulphur Dioxide.

An EPA spokesperson said the change was a result of a review of licences that took place earlier this year, which found “some limited and unnecessary variation” between the five stations’ licences.

“As a result of this review the EPA is working with power stations to make emissions monitoring more consistent, to protect the health of the community and the environment, including in the Lithgow area,” the spokesperson said.

An EnergyAustralia spokesperson indicated the continuous monitoring system will be “up and running” by 2019.

He said pollutants emitted into the air from the station were currently monitored periodically. Emissions of the station’s stack were sampled and reported every three months.

“Readings are tested and verified by independent laboratories and third-party auditors, before they’re submitted to the state environment regulators,” the spokesperson said.

“Also, we measure the coal quality coming into the station on a daily basis. Coal that does not comply with the quality specification is rejected and returned to the coal supplier.

“In the unlikely event the monitoring indicates an elevated air quality result, another round of monitoring follows. Should this second test verify the elevation a thorough investigation is conducted and corrective actions follow.”

EnergyAustralia is not required by its licence to contact the EPA if an exceedance is recorded, only if “environmental harm” is caused.

The EPA review found one case of Mt Piper exceeding pollution limits between 2011-2016, but stated it was most likely a monitoring error.

A fortnight ago not-for-profit legal group Environmental Justice Australia conducted a community meeting at Hoskins Church where they described Lithgow as an air quality monitoring “black spot” due to the lack of real-time monitoring of pollutants by the power station, as well as government agencies.

FORUM: EJA researcher and community organiser Dr James Whelan and lawyer Bronya Lipski in Lithgow. Picture: PHOEBE MOLONEY

FORUM: EJA researcher and community organiser Dr James Whelan and lawyer Bronya Lipski in Lithgow. Picture: PHOEBE MOLONEY

“Continuous monitoring is really important for two reasons: the first reason is that we can’t hope to get an accurate picture of pollution the power station is emitting if we only monitor pollution once or four times a year,” EJA researcher Dr James Whelan said.

“Continuous monitoring provides a much more accurate picture of real pollution.

“The community also has a right to know what they’re breathing, essentially. Conducting continuous monitoring is important, but providing access to that data to will be the next challenge.”

The group also pointed out the Lithgow local government area is not included in the state government’s air quality monitoring network, despite more than eighty monitoring stations run by the Office of Environment and Heritage active across the state, some commissioned as early as 1992.

“Nationally, coal fired power stations are the number one contributor to Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) and fine particle pollution (PM2.5). Coal mines are the number one for PM10,” Dr Whelan said.

“I live in Newcastle and we have five monitoring stations and the public can access the data in real-time,” he said.

“So if I wake up at night and smell something funny, I can check in real-time and get an explanation.”

The closest government air monitoring station to Mt Piper Power Station is located in Bathurst, however it does not monitor SO2 and NOx, only particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10).

The air monitoring station closest to Mt Piper Power Station that measures all four pollutants is in Richmond, 60km away.

The EPA said it was looking to establish a temporary monitoring base in the Blue Mountains.

“The NSW Environment Protection Authority will be holding a workshop with relevant stakeholders to agree on the exact nature of the arrangements for the temporary monitoring station in the Blue Mountains with a view to commencing the monitoring in Spring,” a spokesperson said.

The EPA did not state whether continuous monitoring data by Mt Piper Station would be required to be made available to the public.

Under Mt Piper’s current licence quarterly periodic testing results must be published on EnergyAustralia’s website and the station must contribute yearly periodic figures to the National Pollutant Inventory, which is published online.

The EPA review found EnergyAustralia failed to publish four required data sets from Mt Piper (a further one was incomplete) on their website in the 2015-16 period.

Monthly summaries of data associated with Mt Piper Power Station’s licence up until June 2018 can be found on EnergyAustralia’s website.

You can find more information about the health impacts of SO2, NOx, PM 2.5 and PM10 on the NSW Health website.

Published by the Lithgow Mercury on 15 August 2018

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