Premier urged to control air pollution in 2014: 50% increase in air pollution breaches in Newcastle and the Hunter

Particle pollution levels soared in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley during 2013, exceeding the national guideline for particle pollution on 171 occasions. Community groups are calling on Premier O’Farrell to reject a proposal for a fourth coal terminal in Newcastle, and for the immediate covering of all coal wagons and stockpiles.

Particle pollution contributes to respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, asthma, hospital admissions and premature death. Particle pollution levels remained below the national standard at just two of the EPA’s seventeen monitoring stations in the Upper and Lower Hunter.

Particle pollution levels exceeded the PM10 standard nine times in urban Newcastle, five times at the Beresfield monitoring site, four times at the Newcastle High sports field and twice in Wallsend. PM10 levels exceeded 80 micrograms per cubic metre (μg/m3) on 14 occasions. On 15 September, Muswellbrook residents were exposed to PM10 levels more than twice the standard (106.8μg/m3).

The 171 exceedances of the PM10 standard compares to 115 during 2012 – a 50% increase.

Industry monitoring revealed additional exceedances. A monitoring site installed in residential Stockton by Orica Chemicals following their 2012 pollution disaster registered more than 20 exceedances, with a 24-hour average PM10 level of 100.5μg/m3 recorded on 25 February.

During 2013, community groups in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley raised funds and hired air quality monitoring equipment to assess particle pollution from uncovered coal wagons. Their study made national headlines when they confirmed that particle pollution increased by up to 1300% as coal trains pass, with the highest levels associated with uncovered coal wagons.

In April this year, the Australian Medical Association advised the Senate Inquiry into the Health Impacts of Air Quality that more Australians die each year from air pollution than from motor vehicle accidents. The NSW Environmental Protection Authority advised the Senate Inquiry that 87.6% of the Hunter Valley’s PM10 pollution is caused by coal mining.

The NSW Government is currently assessing a proposed fourth coal terminal for Newcastle (T4), which would increase coal mining exports by 70 million tonnes of coal each year.

“The NSW Government has a duty to protect community health,” said Hunter Community Environment Centre spokesperson Dr James Whelan. “We call on Premier O’Farrell to reject the proposed coal terminal and to implement measures to ensure pollution levels remain below the national guideline, such as insisting that coal wagons and stockpiles are covered.”

“There is overwhelming evidence that covering coal wagons and stockpiles would reduce particle pollution in Newcastle and the Lower Hunter. This year’s senate inquiry recommended that state governments insist that the coal industry take this practical measure to improve urban air quality. This one practical measure would help Premier Barry O’Farrell improve air quality during 2014.”

“How bad does pollution need to get before the NSW Government steps in with policies and programs to improve community health?”

Fine particle (PM2.5) concentrations exceeded the NSW EPA ‘advisory reporting guideline of 25μg/m3 on nine occasions – in the Newcastle suburbs of Wallsend (6 times) and Beresfield (once) and in the Hunter Valley at Muswellbrook (once) and Camberwell (once). PM2.5 is only monitored at these five of the Hunter’s 17 monitoring sites.

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