Environment Minister challenged to tackle Hunter’s coal dust crisis

At a packed community forum last night, NSW Environment Minister Robyn Parker admitted that her department supported the proposed fourth coal terminal (T4) despite admitting that it will add to the region’s coal dust crisis. The Minister failed to indicate how she plans to respond to the current spate of air pollution alerts and exceedances in Newcastle and the Hunter.

“Ms Parker and her department should not have endorsed T4. Her job is to protect community health and the environment,” said Coal Terminal Action Group spokesperson John Hayes.

Air pollution experts from the University of Newcastle and the NSW EPA last night confirmed that particle pollution regularly exceeds the national standard throughout the Hunter. There have been 98 exceedances of the national PM10 standard in the region during the last 12 months. The EPA issued 36 air pollution alerts during October. Health experts compared particle pollution exposure to smoking to demonstrate there is no safe level.

“We should not be comparing Newcastle’s air quality to Mexico, Rome or Beijing or accepting a single exceedance of the national standard,” said Stockton resident Cathy Burgess.

“How bad does the Hunter’s air pollution need to be before the Environment Minister and her department reject developments that will add to the problem?” she asked. “We expect government ministers to champion the cleanest air possible.”

The meeting highlighted a conflict between the environment and health departments. While the EPA endorsed T4 “subject to conditions”, NSW Health expressed concern that PM10 levels in Newcastle already exceed the national standard many times each year, that an additional 120 million tonnes of coal each year will result in a substantial increase in coal train traffic to and from the Port of Newcastle, and that Port Waratah Coal Services has inadequately considered air quality issues associated with rail transport of coal, including diesel emissions.

CTAG has convened a meeting between community representatives and the Hunter’s elected local, state and federal politicians for next Monday November 12 to seek their commitment to addressing the region’s coal dust crisis.

“Government decisions in coming months could change Newcastle irrevocably. Our vision is for a healthy, diverse and sustainable city, “said Mr Hayes. “We know this vision is shared by some of our representatives."

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