Air pollution from Hunter Valley coal mines has been at dangerous levels in the last month, with the state government issuing a staggering 72 alerts for poor air quality in September.
Dr James Whelan of Environmental Justice Australia said there had been 181 alerts for elevated concentrations of PM10 – the course particle pollution from open cut coal mines – in the Hunter Valley so far this year, including 72 during the month of September.
“This amounts to more than two alerts every day for elevated levels of a toxic pollutant that decreases lung function, triggers asthma attacks and leads to heart disease,” Dr Whelan said.
“Adults and children in the Hunter Valley are breathing in this stuff every single day.
“In the Upper Hunter, 49 of the region’s 72 exceedances of PM10 have been at Camberwell, Mt Thorley, Singleton NW and Maison Dieu, communities literally surrounded by coal mines.
“In the Lower Hunter air pollution has been worst in Stockton, where daily average PM10 concentrations have exceeded the national standard 36 times so far this year. The massive uncovered coal stockpiles are the single greatest contributor.
“The pollution is not restricted to the Hunter Valley, with the state’s highest 24-hour average concentrations of PM2.5 – the fine particle pollution that is breathed deep into the lungs – having been recorded in the Sydney suburbs of Liverpool, Bringelly, Chullora and Earlwood.
“NSW led the process in 2015 that resulted in somewhat better national air pollution standards to protect community health, but now those standards are being exceeded on a daily basis.”
Coal mining is responsible for nearly 90% of the PM10 pollution in the Hunter Valley.
Dr Whelan said coal companies’ unwillingness to adjust or cease their operations in the hot, dry conditions was largely to blame for the air pollution problems.
“Even though the last month has been hot and dry here in the Hunter, coal companies continue to dump coal from open trucks and seem unwilling to sprinkle water on their roads.
“Two people in NSW can immediately improve this situation: state environment minister Gabrielle Upton should instruct her department to crack down on coal companies that don’t control pollution from their mines and planning minister Anthony Roberts needs to stop approving new coal mines and mine expansions, such as Peabody Energy’s proposal to expand its Wambo operation.
“Every new mine is considered in isolation, but the cumulative effect of so many huge open cut pits in the Valley is doing the damage. Things will only get worse if there are more and bigger mines.
“For the sake of public health we need stronger pollution control for Hunter Valley coal mines.”
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