Coal-fired air pollution is generating an estimated $2.4 billion in health costs annually in Australia, according to a new report by actuaries, economists, and lawyers.
They say the health bill stems from a lack of pollution controls on coal-fired power stations which are exposing 2.1 million Australians to toxic pollutants.
And they describe the $2.5 billion figure as “conservative”, although it already represents more than two-thirds of the Federal Government’s COVID-19 healthcare package.
The negative health outcomes of coal-fired station air pollution, recently identified in peer-reviewed research, includes low birth weight live births, thousands of extra days of asthma symptoms for those aged five to 19, along with hundreds of premature deaths. Pollution from coal-fired power stations can also worsen heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and Type 2 diabetes, according to the report.
The report was prepared for Environmental Justice Australia (EJA), by a team of actuarial volunteers including Chris Johnson, Miing Pin Low, Abyn Scaria, Sheena Wong, Xiao Xu, Alan Yao and Yu Zhu.
It came as a result of the recent ‘Actuarial Hackathon’ organised by the Actuaries Institute running from June to July, which aims to match actuarial volunteers with not-for-profit organisations to help use their skills to solve problems.
“Deadly air pollution generated by Australia’s 22 aging coal-burning power stations can no longer be ignored,” Lawyer Bronya Lipski from EJA said.
“Our governments must urgently move to address the serious flaws in our regulatory system that have fuelled this public health crisis.
“The Actuaries Institute report, based on conservative modelling, quantifies the extent to which big polluters get off scot-free for polluting far more than other countries allow, while Australians pay the cost with their health and their lives.”
She also expressed concern that Australia’s coal-fired power stations lack the basic pollution controls that are required in other countries.
EJA has urged state governments to implement clean air strategies and reduce coal-fire power station pollution to as close to zero as possible. They also want to see strong stack emission limits established in line with international standards, and operators installing best practice pollution controls and continuous stack monitoring.
Professor John Quiggin from the University of Queensland School of Economic highlighted the “hidden heath costs” that the report confirms Australians are facing. “The economic damage caused by coal far outweights any benefits — which have, in any case, largely disappeared,” he said.
He urged governments to use the pandemic recovery to place human health above the desire to maintain the economic status quo. “Australia can and should get off coal by 2030.”
Read the report from the Actuaries Institute of Australia here.