Lithgow residents should be concerned the owners of Mt Piper power station and the NSW government are failing to accurately measure pollution data, an environmental legal expert has warned.
Dr James Whelan of Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) said pollution figures for Mount Piper were worrying because of inconsistencies with one of the most serious pollutants.
Figures for the fine particle pollution at Mt Piper have changed dramatically in the last four years, dropping from a high of 210,000 kilograms in 2013-14, to just 10,000kg in 2015-16, before rising to 59,000 in 2016-17.
The figures come from the National Pollutant Inventory, published by federal government from figures provided by the industry.
The fine particulates have a width of 2.5 micrometres, about 1/20th the width of a human hair, that can enter the blood stream and are capable of causing serious health concerns.
Dr Whelan said there was no way Mt Piper’s owner, EnergyAustralia, could explain the variations because they were too exaggerated to come from changes in energy output.
“To go from 210,000kg to just 10,000kg in two years for no apparent reason, then have a figure of 59,000kg, a 490 per cent increase is very concerning,” he said.
“We believe the company is reporting unreliable data and it doesn’t seem like they or the EPA [Environmental Protection Authority] are interested in checking it.”
The output of sulphur dioxides and nitrogen oxides from the Lithgow plant rose by 39 per cent and 22 per cent respectively in 2016-17.
In a written response an EnergyAustralia spokesman said the company “strongly reject the implication that our operations pose unacceptable risks to human health”.
“In the past few years the Mt Piper power station hasn’t had secure coal supply and demand for electricity from big plants has fluctuated,” the spokesperson said.
“Constraints on supply eased in 2016, allowing Mt Piper to generate electricity more freely in response to rising demand for firm, baseload power across New South Wales. Changes in emissions data reflect that.”
The company said the variations in emissions were the result of “differences in electricity generated by the plant”, and were “disappointed the EJA would imply otherwise”.
The NSW EPA launched an investigation in 2017 after the fine particle figures were revealed but its report “found no evidence of deliberate misreporting of emission data”.