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Issue #1600      July 3, 2013

Testing finds coal dust levels top National Standards five days in seven

In March dust pollution levels in Tighes Hill and Carrington in the NSW Hunter region were found to be well in excess of national air quality safety levels on at least five days of a single week, in testing commissioned by frustrated community groups.

Alarmed that investigations of the source of dust pollution and its impacts on community health had not taken place, community groups commissioned air quality testing along the Hunter’s “coal corridor” and the results were analysed by one of Australia’s leading air quality experts.

Dust particle pollution 10 microns and less in size (PM10) which is easily absorbed into the lungs and can lead to toxic materials such as lead, cadmium and other chemicals entering the blood stream, was recorded at levels as high as 80 micrograms per cubic metre averaged over a 24 hour period at Garrett Street in Carrington. The national standard for PM10 is 50 micrograms per cubic metre.

The dust pollution testing was conducted during the assessment period for the proposed fourth coal loader (T4) in Newcastle, in suburbs close to the Port of Newcastle and along the lower Hunter’s “coal corridor”. The results were compared to those recorded at established Environment Protection Authority (EPA) monitors further away in Cooks Hill and also at Beresfield. Data from the Orica monitor in Stockton was also compared to results from city locations.

Three portable air quality monitors were used to test dust pollution levels at 11 locations in Mayfield, Carrington, Tighes Hill, Kotara, Hexham, Thornton, East Maitland and Lochinvar. Samples were recorded at one and 10-minute intervals from December 10, 2012 to January 6, 2013.

The results of testing in suburbs close to the Port of Newcastle clearly show that the suburbs closer to industrial infrastructure, including coal loaders and coal train lines, experience much higher levels of particle pollution compared with levels recorded at the EPA monitor in Cooks Hill.

An alliance of 18 community groups, the Coal Terminal Action Group, commissioned the air quality testing with technical advice from Professor Howard Bridgman from the University of Newcastle and Professor Lidia Morawska from the Queensland University of Technology.

The alliance said that the results demonstrate the urgent need for more detailed independent research of dust pollution in the Hunter’s coal corridor and called for the T4* application processes to be halted while a health assessment is conducted.

“It would be irresponsible if the NSW government pushed ahead with its plans to develop Newcastle’s fourth coal terminal without first establishing what the true impact on people’s health will be,” said spokesperson for the community groups, Zoe Rogers.

“No studies have been conducted by government or industry to give the community confidence about where dust pollution is coming from and what the impacts of it are on people’s health.

“People’s health is a fundamental issue, but it appears the NSW government is intent on developing the new coal terminal irrespective of the damage it would inflict.”

* The T4 has since been shelved for at least two years.   

Next article – More time needed for NAPLAN report card

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