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Issue #1641      June 4, 2014

Coal mining pollution doubled in a decade

The nation’s air quality has declined dramatically in the past decade and coal mining has been identified as the biggest source of harmful respiratory particles in our air, a new federal government report finds.

The National Pollutant Inventory report finds that Queensland is the most polluted state in terms of the levels of particulate matter with eight of the nation’s top ten particle emitting coal mines located in the Sunshine state.

Spokesperson for community group Clean Air Queensland, Michael Kane, said the report should sound an urgent warning bell on the need for greater controls on air pollution.

“Particle pollution contributes to a range of cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses yet we have no national uniform legislation to protect the very air we breathe,” Mr Kane said.

“Even getting coal trains covered to reduce particle pollution has proved too difficult for our legislators and the dust from stockpiles of uncovered coal waiting for export blows freely over populated areas.”

The NPI report found that particles of toxic material in our air, including lead, arsenic and fluoride, have increased by between 150 and 200 percent in the past 10 years.

Coal mining was identified as the leading source of particle pollution contributing 380,000 tonnes of the total 830,000 tonnes of tiny dust particles that can be breathed in, known as PM 10, emitted nationally in 2012-13.

“Coal mining was also a significant contributor to the levels of smaller particles clogging our air, known as PM 2.5. Coal burning for electricity generation is adding even more toxic load to the burden of pollutants we currently breathe in.”

Mr Kane said most of the nation’s worst coal mine emitters were found in central Queensland in the Bowen Basin.

The Hunter region in NSW was the next biggest contributor to declining air quality with 53,000 tonnes of PM 10 toxins emitted in 2012-13 in the Singleton area alone, 96 percent of this came directly from coal mining.

Hunter Valley regional coordinator for the Lock the Gate Alliance Steve Phillips said the report showed clearly that current government action was doing little to prevent the quality of our air from declining.

“The report found that motor vehicles collectively contributed 12,000 tonnes of these particulates every year, a figure dwarfed by the emissions from the coal industry,” Mr Phillips said.

“For too long the coal industry has gotten away with excessive pollution. It has a developed a cavalier approach to the impact it has on our environment and our health.

“When is our government going to take notice of the very real impact this sort of pollution is having on human health and the health of the environment?

“Coal–affected communities have long sought better standards and this report highlights the urgent need for better pollution controls.

“Our national standards need to be brought into state legislation and the standard acceptable limits for PM 10 need to be brought into line with more stringent limits set by the World Health Organisation.”

The release of the data comes just days after a Cleaning the Air report found that 3,000 Australians were dying every year as a direct result of air pollution.

Next article – What Qld budget could mean for workers

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