Hunter community groups equipped to monitor air pollution in coal corridor suburbs

Community groups will begin monitoring air pollution next week to assess levels of particle pollution along the Hunter coal corridor. Using industry-standard equipment, the groups will monitor for a month in suburbs between the Newcastle port and Rutherford.

“Communities in the Hunter Valley are increasingly worried about coal dust and its health impacts, especially with new coal mines and terminals proposed,” said Coal Terminal Action Group spokesperson Dr James Whelan. “We’ve raised funds to monitor how much pollution the coal trains generate and how far it spreads into our suburbs.”

The Osiris equipment monitors different sizes of particle pollution simultaneously: particles of up to 10 microns in diameter (PM10), PM2.5 and PM1. Monitoring stations in the Hunter have recorded levels of PM10 above the national standard almost 100 times during the last 12 months. Elevated levels of particle pollution cause respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses including asthma, hospital admissions and premature death. Increasing particle pollution leads directly to an increase in these health impacts.

According to census data, approximately 32,000 people live within 500 metres of the coal corridor in Newcastle. At least 23,000 Newcastle children attend school each day within the corridor.

“The NSW Government is making planning decisions like whether or not to approve a fourth coal terminal in Newcastle without a clear picture of air pollution levels and impacts along the coal corridor,” said Dr Whelan. “Community groups are tired of waiting for the government or industry to investigate just how much pollution from coal trains we’re living with so we’re taking matters into our own hands.”

Community groups were highly critical of a report into coal corridor pollution published last month by the Hunter Valley coal industry. They will monitor at ten locations compared to the two locations in the industry study, including households.

Air quality experts at the University of Newcastle study have advised on the design of the community-led study and will interpret the monitoring data.

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