Coal crackdown urged as air pollution breaches rise by 50% in Hunter Valley

The New South Wales government has been urged to ensure all coal wagons and stockpiles are covered, and to reject plans for a new coal terminal in Newcastle, after figures showed a rise in air pollution in parts of the state.

The Hunter Community Environment Centre said its analysis of the Environment Protection Authority’s 2013 data showed a 50% increase in air pollution breaches throughout the year in the Hunter Valley and Newcastle, compared with 2012.

The group, which has campaigned against the mining industry on health grounds, said the national standard for a particle called PM10 was breached 171 times last year.

Significant quantities of PM10 can cause respiratory illnesses, such as asthma, and cardiovascular disease.

The breaches showed the NSW government should block a fourth terminal at Newcastle that would export an additional 70m tonnes a year, the environment group said.

The group is also campaigning for the mining industry to cover coal wagons on trains, which it blames for spreading harmful coal dust. A Senate inquiry last year called for better monitoring of potentially harmful effects, although submissions from the mining industry said covering wagons would be too expensive.

“I was surprised by the number of breaches but also by the EPA, which has steadfastly refused to implement any measures to control pollution,” James Whelan, from the community environment centre, told Guardian Australia.

He said there was no week during the year when the pollution did not exceed national standards.

“And yet on Christmas day the EPA was targeting lawnmowers as a pollution source, which is breathtaking when you consider coal is 4,500 times more polluting. It isn’t acting as a responsible regulator.”

The EPA spokeswoman said air quality in NSW had improved in recent years, despite an increase in population and vehicle use.

“It is important to note that natural events, such as bushfires, dust storms and periods of low rainfall can cause significant year-to-year variation in air quality; however, the EPA recognises the health impacts of air pollution and is working on identifying particulate sources in the Hunter region and reducing emissions through a number of programs,” she said.

“The EPA has undertaken significant work to address community concerns regarding dust emissions from the rail network. We will impose additional requirements on industry if evidence shows that these will be effective in achieving the NEPM [National Environment Protection Measures] standards.”

The NSW department of environment, which monitors air quality, said the breaches were mostly down to bushfires and high winds in October, after a very dry winter.

Stephen Galilee, chief executive of the NSW Minerals council, said the mining industry took air pollution “very seriously”.

“We know mining makes a contribution to air quality, but there are other factors, such as wood smoke from bushfires and home heating, diesel emissions and all sorts of other things,” he said.

“The figures used by James Whelan are terribly misleading. They are using hourly readings where the national standards are taken from a 24-hour average. They are alarming the public as part of an agenda to damage the Hunter mining industry using air quality as a weapon.

“The air in the Hunter is comparable to Sydney, if not better. We are working to reduce dust emissions by 80% and create a predictive weather forecasting system for dry and dusty weather conditions.”

Galilee said there was “no reliable study” showing that covering wagons would reduce coal dust, adding that the industry was “doing it tough” and would be hurt by the cost of adding covers in the face of falling thermal coal prices.

Whelan said this claim was “desperate” and that covering wagons would protect health and save money for the coal industry, by preventing unintentional loss of minerals during transit.

via Coal crackdown urged as air pollution breaches rise by 50% in Hunter Valley | World news |

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