Australia’s top 10 most polluted postcodes named
An environmental organisation has named the 10 most polluted postcodes in Australia after analysing emissions data from some of the country’s biggest air polluters.
The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) did a deep dive into the National Pollutant Inventory, which contains emission data reported by power stations, mines and manufacturing plants around the country.
In order to classify towns, the ACF focused on the amount of emissions of five dangerous air pollutants: sulphur dioxide, mercury, nitrogen oxides, and coarse and fine particles.
Unsurprisingly, the analysis revealed that six of the 10 postcodes with the highest rate of air pollution are home to a coal-fired power plant or coalmine.
ACF economy and democracy program manager Matt Rose said the data highlighted the importance of transitioning to renewable energy quickly to ensure these communities had some relief from air pollution.
“We need a clear plan to phase out coal-fired power plants to provide certainty for the communities that live around the plants,” he said.
Mr Rose acknowledged the National Pollution Inventory did not include data about the amount of traffic emissions around Australia, which he said was “a concern”. However, he noted the data disparity only emphasised the need for better national guidelines around pollution so all communities were equally protected.
“Unfortunately, traffic pollution isn’t collected in the same way and we’d like to see more monitoring of pollution and more reporting of pollution,” Mr Rose said.
“We think there needs to be a standard and more nationally consistent regulation that ensures communities aren’t exposed to dangerous pollution and that means ensuring that technology that’s available is retrofitted to these communities.”
With 3000 deaths a year from air pollution, the ACF believes the report reveals how pervasive and dangerous air pollution can be for all Australians.
“As an indicator of what’s happening in communities and where pollution is and where facilities are that are polluting, it’s a pretty good starting point and a pretty good basis to work off,” Mr Rose said.
THE TOP 10 MOST POLLUTED POSTCODES
1. Mount Isa, Qld
According to the ACF, the Australian town with the highest rate of air pollution in 2022 is Mount Isa in northwest Queensland.
The town was created around the silver, copper, zinc and lead mines and is host to Mount Isa Mines – one of the most productive single mines in history. The ACF found the mine was also the largest contributor of all five pollutants, emitting a staggering 91 per cent of the region’s total pollutants.
A 2017 study by the University of Queensland found the Mount Isa community was living with “potentially significant lead pollution”.
2. Newman, WA
The northern West Australian town of Newman in the Pilbara region has been crowned the second highest contributor to air pollution.
Of the 17 mines and power stations surrounding the desert town, the National Pollution Inventory data reveals the Christmas Creek iron-ore mine is the biggest air polluter.
The ACF analysis showed the mine contributed more than 22 per cent of the five dangerous air pollutants.
3. Muswellbrook, NSW
Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley is the most polluted town in NSW and the third most polluted in the country.
Known for being a coalmining town, it houses AGL’s Bayswater power plant, one of the ageing coal-fired power plants that has recorded increased pollution and decreased power output over the past few years.
According to ACF, the plant was responsible for more than 54 per cent of the pollutants added to the community’s air.
“As these facilities age, they’re going to become more polluting,” Mr Rose said.
“It’s another reason why coal-fired power stations need to be phased out in Australia and the technology is available to do it.”
4. Tom Price, WA
Another remote community in the West Australian Pilbara region has made the list of the most polluted postcodes, with the small town of Tom Price ranking fourth.
Despite the minuscule population of 3000 people, the town is besieged by 16 mines and power plants.
Of those, the Fortescue Metals-owned Solomon Hub is the largest contributor of air pollutants, with emissions totalling nearly 28 per cent of the total.
5. Traralgon, Vic
The fast-growing city of Traralgon in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley is home to eight industrial emitters – one of which has the second highest rate of releasing sulphur dioxide pollutants in Australia.
The operation, AGL’s Loy Yang coal-fired power station, contributes more than 68 per cent of the region’s total air pollutants.
6. Gladstone, Qld
Home to one of the oldest coalmining plants in Queensland, the coastal city of Gladstone is home to 14 power plants, mines and manufacturing plants.
Of the 14, the Gladstone Power Plant is the biggest contributor to local air pollution, with reports it emitted more than 48 per cent of the region’s total pollutants.
Community campaigner and Gladstone resident Jaclyn McCosker said the government needed to put polluted communities at the forefront of the energy transition with an inclusive strategy.
“Let’s deploy climate solutions fast enough to address the climate crisis but do it in a way that’s genuinely constructive and positive for the people that actually live in these carbon intensive regions,” she said.
“If anyone can actually lead an energy transition, it‘s likely going to be Gladstone.”
7. Stanwell, Qld
The northern Queensland town of Stanwell is another of the country’s most polluted towns, with tens of millions of kilograms of reported air pollutants.
While there are nine power stations and mines in the area, the single largest air pollution emitter is the Stanwell Power Station.
In a town of less than 400 people, the station produces 74 per cent of the region’s air pollution.
8. Collie, WA
In the southwest of Western Australia, Collie is known for being a literal powerhouse. With a population of less than 8000 people, the town is home to three power stations and two coalmines.
Of the total eight operations of concern, the ACF analysis identified the Muja Power Station as the biggest polluter in contributing more than 34 per cent of the region’s total air pollutants.
9. Tarong, Qld
The fourth Queensland town to make the most polluted list is the rural locality of Tarong. The town is best known for the Tarong Power Station and a nearby mine, both of which emit huge amounts of air pollutants.
The power station is the largest polluter, contributing nearly 80 per cent of the total air pollutants for the area.
10. Kalgoorlie, WA
Rounding out the top 10 most polluted towns in Australia is the Western Australian city of Kalgoorlie. It has a reputation for mining and plays host to the annual Diggers and Dealers mining conference.
There are 24 large-scale emissions operations in the region, with gold, silver, mercury, and lead mines contributing air pollutants.
The two worst polluters are Kanowna Belle Operations and Nickel West Kalgoorlie Shelter, both of which contribute around 31 per cent of the air pollutants recorded in the region.
Originally published as Australia’s top 10 most polluted postcodes named
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