A crackdown on coal mine dust has been launched in the Hunter Valley, to ensure mines comply with strict operating conditions.
The region’s air quality monitoring network has been working overtime issuing alerts for PM10 levels exceeding national standards.
This is especially the case at night at sites including Mount Thorley, Maison Dieu and Camberwell when there has been little to no wind- which indicates the dust is coming from nearby sources.
“Operation Dust Patrol is underway, and inspectors from the Environment Protection Authority are on the alert,” Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton said.
“All mines operate under strict licensing conditions and they are required to minimise dust levels. Making sure mines do this is a priority for the NSW Government.
“The strict operating conditions are there to protect and safeguard the community and the environment and any mine that does not properly control its dust can face fines of up to $1 million.
“People living near mines should be protected by tough regulations and mine operators have a duty at law to improve their environmental performance.”
During Operation Dust Patrol EPA Officers will inspect mines to check that, in addition to best practice dust controls, extra precautions are in place on days when there is a higher risk of dust, Ms Upton said.
“In particular, mines must take extra care during harsh dry weather conditions to prevent dust affecting the surrounding communities.
“The current dry drought conditions, especially on windy days, mean that mines should be taking extra precautions to control the amount of dust generated on site.
“These precautions could include not transporting or dumping as much earth, watering exposed stockpiles, delaying blasting until calmer weather or ceasing operations altogether.
“If mines are caught out breaching regulations or not taking extra care on windy days, the EPA will take action.” she said.
Residents will be pleased with an increase in the fines as in May this year the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) fined the Yancoal owned Hunter Valley Operations open cut mine near Singleton $15,000 for the licence breach.
The breach occurred on January 17 this year when a blast at the mine sent a plume over Jerrys Plains and further inland towards Doyles Creek.
Locals described the sight of the plume as being like a bushfire over the village except the odour meant they knew immediately it was from a mine blast plume.