News National Australia’s pollution mapped by postcode reveals nation’s ‘dirty truth’
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Australia’s pollution mapped by postcode reveals nation’s ‘dirty truth’

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The Hensley Athletics Field at Eastgardens in Sydney is surrounded by suburbs with polluting facilities. Photo: ABC News/Matthew Abbott
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For the first time, Australia’s pollution has been mapped by postcode in a report titled The Dirty Truth by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF).

Some of the areas identified as being the most polluted in Australia’s capital cities include:

  • Botany Bay in Sydney
  • Altona in Melbourne
  • Port of Brisbane
  • Parmelia near Perth

ACF found the lower the postcode’s weekly household income, the more likely it was to be home to polluting facilities such as factories and refineries.

“If you’re in that bottom 60 per cent, you’re much more likely to live around a polluting facility,” ACF economist Matt Rose said.

And if you want to avoid living among pollutants?

“The best way is to have money essentially. And you can buy a house … in suburbs where there aren’t any polluting facilities,” Mr Rose said.

“They’re in the top 20 per cent of income postcodes in Australia.”

He said only 0.1 per cent of polluting facilities were found in those wealthier postcodes.

The report relies on data from the National Pollution Inventory (NPI). It is collected from big polluters that self-report calculations as to what they’re putting into the atmosphere.

ACF took the NPI data and looked at the location of the polluting facilities, so if you live in a suburb next to one identified in the report, your postcode reading could be zero.

Based on this approach, the top five polluted postcodes are in regional Australia and the biggest polluting facility in each is either a coal-fired power plant or a mine.

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A food processing plant backs onto the Garnet Jackson Reserve in Botany. Photo: ABC News/Matthew Abbott

But the most prevalent polluters are in manufacturing and they are primarily located where most Australians live.

“The vast majority of polluting facilities are found in our major cities and it makes sense because that’s where people are and where work is,” Mr Rose said.

“Those facilities are found in our major cities – all around them and in the middle of them.

“We’re not sure if people live in those areas around polluting facilities because it’s a cheaper place to live, or that those facilities have been put there around lower income communities because they’re less likely to push back on decision makers.

“This report doesn’t really answer that question.”

Although many city dwellers may not notice pollution in their everyday lives, researchers say it is taking a toll.

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Less than 10km from Sydney’s CBD is one of the city’s most polluted suburbs, Botany Bay. Photo: ABC News/Mary Lloyd

“People who live in cities, where most Australians live, are also exposed to levels of air pollution that cause problems,” said Bin Jalaludin, who is an investigator for the Centre for Air Pollution, Energy and Health Research, and a Professor at the University of New South Wales.

“Air pollution has a range of impacts.

“What we know – there’s strong evidence – is that [it] impacts on heart disease, on stroke, on respiratory diseases, on lung diseases, lung cancer for example.”

Living in 3018 – Melbourne’s most polluted postcode

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The Altona Refinery in Melbourne contributes to the high level of pollution in postcode 3018. Photo: ABC News/Matthew Abbott

In Melbourne’s west, residents share their suburb with the Altona refinery, responsible for 86 per cent of the emissions in the postcode, according to the ACF report.

Some in Altona said they believed they might have paid a price for living so close to a big polluter. Alicia Kernaghan and her in-laws all live within a few blocks of the refinery.

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Alicia Kernaghan has lived near the Altona Refinery for nearly 10 years. Photo: ABC News/Norman Hermant

“My mother-in-law has emphysema and small-cell lung cancer,” she said.

“My partner has asthma, my children have asthma. At least four other people on this street have asthma.”

Donovan Cooke has been living over the road from the refinery for three years.

“It all depends which way the wind is blowing really,” he said.

“My little boy is eight and a half now [and] he gets more asthma attacks since we’ve lived here.

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Donovan Cooke has lived opposite the refinery for three years and says he has more asthma attacks now. Photo: ABC News/Norman Hermant

“[I’m] pretty scared really. My son’s pretty asthmatic and it’s not good to be breathing in that sort of stuff.”

Lorraine Lamers has lived in the city’s most polluted postcode for 57 years and she doesn’t seem to mind.

Ms Lamers said she had “no trouble at all”.

“We all got used to it,” she said.

Concerns raised by Altona residents are shared by those living in postcodes home to the nation’s biggest power plants.

Environmental lawyer Bronya Lipksi grew up in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, which has three large coal-fired plants still in operation.

“Living in an area like the Latrobe Valley, there’s quite often a yellow-brown haze that sort of sits in the atmosphere that folks can see,” she said.

“It’s ugly. And it makes you wonder what it is you’re breathing in.”

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Neighbours Tony Stafrace and Lorraine Lamers said that after living next to the refinery for decades they are ‘used to it’. Photo: ABC News/Norman Hermant

The report’s authors said the time had come for binding national standards that set consistent pollution limits across the country.

It also called for a national environmental protection authority to enforce those standards.

“Unbelievably, Australia doesn’t have air emission standards that are consistent across states. It’s a mish-mash of regulation,” Mr Rose said.

“In many cases, our air pollution standards are lower than places in the EU, the US, and in some cases, even China.

“The health of the community [and] the health of the environment isn’t being protected.”

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What is the pollution like in my postcode?

You can check out any suburb in Australia using the searchable table.

Before you do, we need to tell you a few things about the data.

  • This data comes from the National Pollutant Inventory, which is a run by the Department of Environment and Energy
  • The data contains information on the amount of emissions from individual facilities and diffuse emissions
  • The NPI data shows what is being released from an emissions source, whether those emissions cause pollution can depend on other factors
  • The ACF has taken the NPI emissions dataset and mapped it using two variables: the number of polluting facilities in a postcode and the volume of emissions in the air in that postcode
  • For consistency, ACF’s “total emissions in the air” values are the sum of five key pollutants, which representant the majority of emissions. Other pollutants may be present in small amounts

-ABC