First meeting of community-led Dust and Health study disappointed with EPA’s lack of action

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is under fire from community groups in Newcastle for inadequately considering the likely air pollution and health impacts of the proposed fourth coal loader (T4). In coming weeks, the groups will commission independent experts to monitor fine particle pollution from coal wagons in Newcastle and along the Hunter line.

The Coal Terminal Action Group (CTAG), an alliance of Newcastle community and environmental groups, convened the first steering group meeting for their new Dust and Health study on Thursday night. Steering group members endorsed terms of reference for the study, examined recent air quality monitoring data from the upper and lower Hunter and considered the likely air quality impacts of T4.

"Air pollution in our suburbs already exceeds national and international guidelines," said Ms Zoe Rogers, coordinator of CTAG's new Dust and Health study. "In Stockton, for instance, levels of PM10 (particles of up to 10 microns in diameter) have gone well over the national guideline five times in the last twelve months. This is of grave concern to the community, yet it doesn't seem to bother the EPA at all. We want to know: does the EPA serve the community or industry?"

Although the EPA's submission on the environmental assessment report for T4 stated that "emissions of most pollutants will increase when operations begin" it simply restated PWCS's claim that there will be "no additional exceedance days due to the operation of the Terminal 4 project and therefore the operation of the project will meet the goals and objectives of the Ambient Air Quality NEPM.” In their T4 submission, the EPA recommended that PWCS “identify additional mitigation measures that would be employed during weather conditions where the NEPM goal is likely to be exceeded, thus ensuring that any increased impact is minimised.”

“Neither PWCS nor the EPA has acknowledged that fine particle pollution will increase, with direct health consequences for the community, regardless of whether hourly average concentrations are exceeded more frequently or not. Every extra microgram of dust in the air is doing us damage. We expect the EPA to protect the community, not defend and justify developments that will potentially double the pollution we're already exposed to," said Ms Rogers.

Members of the steering group noted that recent and current studies that could address community concerns have not been released by the EPA. In response to sustained community concern and pressure, the EPA has worked with the Australian Rail Track Corporation to monitor fine particle pollution alongside the Hunter rail corridor in Metford and Mayfield, but has not yet released the report. Local community members from Mayfield were promised the report by March this year, but are still waiting for it from the EPA.

“As the potential health impacts of T4 have not been addressed by PWCS, we call on the NSW Planning Minister Brad Hazzard to suspend the planning process for T4,” said Ms Rogers. “This important decision about Newcastle¹s future must not be made in the dark.”

The fourth coal-loading terminal would double the current volume of coal transported through Newcastle, resulting in at least 107 additional coal train movements each day, 15 new large open cut mines and an additional 120 million tonnes of coal loaded and exported from Newcastle Harbour.

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