Community Report Card Gives the NSW EPA a Failing Grade on Air Pollution

A survey of community attitudes on air quality has shown that the EPA is falling well short of community expectations on managing air quality in the Hunter Valley, particularly in the coal impacted areas of the region.

More than 50% of respondents expressed concerns about air quality in the region in all except one of the local government areas surveyed, with the highest level of concern in Maitland, where 3 out of 4 people (73%) are concerned about air quality. Air quality concerns were echoed in Cessnock (65%), Lake Macquarie (58%) and Newcastle (51%).

Only in Port Stephens, an area without coal mining or transport infrastructure, received a passing grade from the community, but even here only 57.5% of the population were not concerned about air quality. Responses to the survey demonstrated a clear link between the coal industry and air pollution and confirmed strong and enduring community support for covering coal wagons to reduce pollution from coal trains.

Across the region, only 11.8% of respondents felt that air quality issues were not very or not at all severe. Only two in five (41%) of those surveyed believe that air pollution is managed well or very well.

“The results of this survey shows that the full extent of community concerns around air pollution. It shows that people in the Hunter understand the extent of the problem with air pollution, and the health impacts that they are exposed to as a consequence. The challenge to the EPA is to use this as a basis for improving the regulation and management of air pollution, and not merely resort to community education and awareness raising programs,” said Hunter Community Environment Centre (HCEC) spokesperson Dr John Mackenzie.

“Fewer than half consider the EPA professional (43%), trustworthy (37%), independent (32%) or effective (34%). These figures should be cause for concern within the EPA. There is a crisis in confidence with the EPA that will can only be addressed by effective regulation, not through awareness raising or public relations.”

“We are concerned that this report will be used by the EPA as a rationale for more programs that focus on ‘community outreach’, which is the precisely the opposite of what is required. We are very concerned that this report recommendations focus on how the EPA can build its relationship with the community, without actually controlling air pollution.”

“The EPA will win back community confidence and support by strong actions that bring Newcastle and the Hunter’s air quality back within World Health Organisation Standards. Right now, only one in ten people believe air pollution is being monitored and controlled, according to this survey. A 10% approval rating is abysmal, especially for an issue that has measurable impacts on public health.”  

“This study gives the EPA a clear mandate to act boldy and decisively on air pollution and health. This starts with the easily implementable options that will start to bring pollution levels down to acceptable levels, like covering coal wagons and stockpiles and regulating the diesel emissions from trains and ships.”

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