Hunter valley community groups today labelled the coal train pollution study commissioned by the NSW Minerals Council as an expensive public relations exercise that lacks validity and urged the coal industry to withdraw funding for the study.
“A valid study into options to minimise particle pollution from coal wagons would assess a range of options including accepted best practice and would involve independent expert oversight and review,” said Coal Terminal Action Group spokesperson Mr George Barnes.
“This is a hamburger without the meat,” Mr Barnes said.
The Coal Terminal Action Group is an alliance of 20 groups representing communities throughout the Hunter Valley. The alliance’s Dust and Health committee has spent two years studying sources of particle pollution in Newcastle and the valley, and commissioned the Coal Train Signature study which demonstrated particle pollution concentrations increase by up to 13 times as coal trains pass through residential areas.
Previous studies commissioned by the NSW Government and the coal industry have identified covering and washing coal wagons as best practice. This was reinforced by the 2013 Senate Inquiry that recommended state governments instruct the coal industry to cover all coal wagons. Covering and washing wagons is not an option in the Minerals Council study, which looks only at spraying loaded coal wagons with water or two chemical veneers.
Problems with the Minerals Council study
- There is no ‘standard coal’, therefore testing samples will be limited to the results of each sample and in practice that sample may be rarely replicated.
- There is no ‘standard’ wagon design so the aerodynamics will vary.
- Not all coal wagon loads are profiled, and not all profiles are similar.
- The wind tunnel does not replicate wagon vibration.
- The wind tunnel will only assess the loss of coal from loaded trains. Studies show that unloaded coal wagons are a more significant source of particle pollution.
- The wind tunnel will not have cross-winds to realistically replicate the Hunter’s range of weather conditions. Wind directions can vary considerably during a journey.
- The wind tunnel will not model the impact of passing trains
- The wind tunnel will not take into account bridges, tunnels and other infrastructure.
- The wind tunnel will not take into account tracks that are not at natural grade (e.g. cuttings, viaducts and bridges).
- Train speeds are very variable during the journey from Hunter coal mines to the port.
- Coal and coal dust can be lost from the trains whilst they are motionless
Mr Barnes lives 500 metres from the Hunter coal corridor in Mayfield. Approximately four million uncovered coal wagons pass through Mayfield and other Newcastle suburbs each year.
“Particle pollution is an urgent public health problem that warrants a swift regulatory response,” said Mr Barnes. “Minerals Council chief Stephen Galilee cannot expect public or political support for an industry-funded study that has no independent expert scrutiny and rules out assessing the solution that’s established as best practice.”