Considering the Delimara power station extension in terms of the integrated pollution prevention and control application, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority asked Enemalta to submit an economic study on the different fuels that could be used. With a working language in euros, the study inevitably ends up considering whether preventing or reversing air quality degradation is, in fact, feasible due to the costs involved. I am being crude but that is basically what it entails.
It has been explained elsewhere that opting for gas oil instead of heavy fuel oil (HFO) will result in 37.75 per cent lower emissions of PM2.5 (particulate matter having up to 2.5 microns diameter).
Cubed Consultants Limited, author of the Delimara cost benefit analysis, recognises that gas oil has a better emissions performance than HFO. It arrives at this conclusion notwithstanding the incomplete information at its disposal, which information ignores a number of significant HFO emissions.
Cubed Consultants Limited concludes that there is an immediately apparent trade-off between low financial costs and high emission costs: they balance each other out! This may be so in the context of the economic philosophy adopted by Enemalta’s consultants but in the real world things work out differently.
The high emission costs are billed elsewhere. The health account foots part of the bill shouldering higher expenses for health care in general and respiratory ailments in particular. The quality of life account foots the rest of the bill. As a result of opting for lower fuel expenses the higher emissions produced will affect residents in the areas impacted. The varying impacts on their health will reduce their quality of life. Residents in neighbouring areas will also share the effects of the lower air quality.
One of the documents submitted to Mepa by the Marsaxlokk, Birżebbuġa and Żejtun local councils in reply to Enemalta’s IPPC submissions is authored by medical doctor Jason Bonnici and deals with the health effects of air pollution.
Dr Bonnici refers to studies carried out in Atlanta, US in 1996 both before and after the Olympic Games. As a result of measures taken to reduce air pollution during the three weeks of the Games, various indicators (ozone, NO2, carbon monoxide, PM10…) registered a substantial decrease. PM10 (particulate matter up to 10 microns diameter) for example, registered a 16 per cent decrease over the pre-Games levels.
As a result, Atlanta achieved a 40 per cent reduction of consultations in medical practices for asthma in children and a decline of between 11 and 19 per cent of asthma-related visits to emergency departments.
In Beijing, during the 2008 Olympic Games, similar efforts to reduce pollution resulted in a reduction of 31 per cent in PM2.5 and 35 per cent in PM10 concentrations. Results on the impacts of this achievement on health are not yet available.
Faced with this information, it is clear that the generation of air pollution through the use of HFO comes at a heavy health and environmental cost. No amount of economic benefit may balance out the reduction in the quality of life of those whose health is impaired. That is if they live on, as studies quoted by Dr Bonnici indicate an increased death rate in areas that experience the impact of high level PM2.5 and PM10 emissions.
Now, the PM2.5 and PM10 emissions measured by Mepa at Birżebbuġa and Marsaxlokk in April and May 2011 are already very high. Average PM2.5 daily readings measured 52.50μg/m3 at Marsaxlokk and 34.70μg/m3 at Birżebbuġa in contrast with the EU mandatory target value of 25μg/m3. On the other hand, average PM10 daily readings measured 54.10μg/m3 at Marsaxlokk and 70μg/m3 at Birżebbuġa. The EU mandatory daily average is of 50μg/m3.
Faced with this reality, Mepa should feel in duty bound to ensure that the fuel option with the least impacts is selected. It is gas oil that pollutes the least and, hence, it presents the minimum of environmental and health impacts.
There is one further point that Edward Mallia has illustrated time and again. The cost to produce a unit of electricity at the Delimara extension making use of gas oil as a fuel is cheaper than what it presently costs at the Marsa power station using HFO. In the local councils’ documents presented to Mepa, Prof. Mallia and engineer Arthur Ciantar present the workings proving that it is not correct to state that using gas oil instead of HFO would lead to higher electricity bills.
Reducing health and environmental issues to prices and incremental costs or savings tends to lead to a situation of knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing, particularly the value of human life. Euros are not a suitable tool to measure the value of human life, health, the quality of life and the environment.
The ball is now in Mepa’s court. In the next few weeks, we will be able to comprehend the extent to which human life, health, quality of life and environmental issues are factored in (if at all) when important decisions are taken by Mepa.
An architect and civil engineer, the author is the spokesman on sustainable development and local government of Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green party in Malta