The Upper Hunter Air Quality Network has been issuing alerts on a regular basis and last Wednesday the network, operated by the Office of Environment and Heritage, reported air quality surrounding Singleton was near hazardous.
On Wednesday the air quality network showed Camberwell recorded PM10 levels of 229.7 at 11am. National Environment Protection Measure states that levels above 100 are deemed hazardous. The rolling average for Camberwell that day was 97.3, which is very poor.
Dr James Whelan,researcher and community organiser, Environmental Justice Australia, says coarse particle pollution (PM10) is produced by mechanical processes and in the Hunter, blasting, crushing, dumping and loading coal accounts for almost 90% of the Valley’s PM10 pollution.
“Particle pollution has been listed as a carcinogen by the World Health Organisation. There is no threshold below which PM10 does not cause respiratory symptoms and diseases, and contribute to strokes and heart attacks,” he said.
He said in late winter, hazard reduction burning contributes to high particle pollution concentrations at Camberwell, making it even more important to control other sources such as coal mining to protect community health.
“The Hunter Valley experiences some of Australia’s highest particle pollution concentrations, caused primarily by the Valley’s open cut coal mines, coal-fired power stations and (in winter) wood-heaters,” he said. “Coal mines in the Hunter have reported a trebling in their PM10 pollution during the last decade, defying EPA licence conditions and inadequate programs such as Dust Stop,” he said.
“In December 2016, the NSW Government released a draft air pollution control strategy for the state. Despite receiving hundreds of submissions calling for pollution control measures, the strategy has not been finalised.”
The push by the Federal Government to have AGL keep their Liddell power station operating past its proposed closure date of 2022 has raised concerns about the impact on air quality.
“Retiring Liddell would have an immediate and significant health benefit in the Hunter Valley, an air pollution hot spot where deadly fine particle pollution exceeds the national standard every year,” said Dr Whelan.