New study triggers demands for air pollution control: Community and health groups respond

Local and national community groups have responded today to the latest air pollution report in Newcastle by calling for decisive regulatory controls to curb growing emissions from Orica Chemicals and the city’s three coal export terminals.

The NSW Environment Protection Authority will today release findings of a three-year study to characterise the source of particle pollution in Newcastle.1 The study was commissioned in response to community complaints about air pollution associated with coal export, chemical production and other industries in the Lower Hunter.

Earlier this month, the latest National Pollution Inventory reported that particle pollution (PM10 and PM2.5) emissions from Newcastle’s three uncovered coal terminals account for 62% of the city’s total emissions and that they have increased from 190,000kg to 295,000kg (55%) in just five years.2

Local residents in Stockton who experience the state’s highest concentrations of particle pollution have expressed concerns for several years about emissions from the giant Orica ammonium nitrate plant and Newcastle's coal terminals. In winter months, the prevailing north-westerly wind blows straight from the island to their homes. The study confirmed that Orica is a significant source of fine particle pollution in Stockton and other parts of the city.

“The Stockton community  demands that Orica and the coal terminal operators implement best practice pollution controls.” said Mr Keith Craig, spokesperson for the Stockton Residents Action Group. “That would include installing scrubbers and other emission reduction technology at the ammonium plant and entirely enclosing the coal stockpiles."

The study identified sea salt as a significant source of particle pollution in Newcastle, as is the case globally.  This fraction of the city’s particle pollution includes both ‘fresh' sea salt and ‘aged' sea salt that has reacted chemically with industry and vehicle pollution and makes up 23% of Newcastle’s dangerous fine particle pollution (PM2.5). 

The most recent research review of air pollution commissioned by the NSW Government3 confirmed that there is no safe level of exposure to particle pollution and concluded that further research is necessary to understand the effects of inhaling either aged or fresh sea salt, prompting community groups to ask for explanations of the health significance of this finding.

“We look to the NSW Government to focus on those pollution sources that can be controlled,” said Environmental Justice Australia researcher Dr James Whelan. 

"Neither the EPA nor major polluters can control particles associated with fresh sea salt, but they can do much more to control emissions from industrial sources such as Orica, the massive uncovered stockpiles on Kooragang Island and in Carrington, and from wood heaters,” he said.

“We’re very pleased that the EPA commissioned this study, and value learning more about the sources of air pollution in Newcastle,” said Mr Craig. “It’s up to the EPA now to respond with a decisive pollution control strategy.'


For comment:

Mr Keith Craig, Stockton Residents Action Group 0419 478 234

Dr James Whelan, Researcher, Environmental Justice Australia 0431 150 928



1. Lower Hunter Particle Characterisation Study 

2. National Pollutant Inventory; 

3. Neil Hime, Christine Cowie and Guy Marks, 2015, 'Review of the health impacts of emission sources, types and levels of particulate matter in ambient air in NSW’, produced for the NSW EPA and NSW Ministry of Health. p.16, 32 


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