A better year but still 325 air quality alerts for the Upper Hunter during 2020

On Friday, January 1, 2021 the map recording air quality in the Upper Hunter was a sea of green which means the air was good.

Looking at the map, as heavy rain fell around the region, you wanted to take a deep breath and enjoy.

Upper Hunter Air Quality Network map on Friday, January 1 2021 at 9:30pm.

Upper Hunter Air Quality Network map on Friday, January 1 2021 at 9:30pm.

Sadly the 14 air quality monitors in the Upper Hunter, all recording good quality air is still a rare sight, even in a year where the drought has been banished, and a number of mines have instituted forced shutdowns or cut production due to falling prices and reduced demand for thermal coal.

This year there were 325 air quality alerts for the Upper Hunter with the majority being from monitors in the Singleton Local Government Area in particular Camberwell.

They were also mostly due to the level of PM10 being recorded - dust that comes predominately from open cut mining.

Although this a significant drop from the previous year (more than 1000 alerts were issued in 2019) changes in the way alerts are now issued, no bushfires and the end to the drought all played a part in that outcome.

On a day when higher temperatures combine with strong north westerly winds alerts for Singleton and Muswellbrook are issued on a regularly basis highlighting how susceptible the region remains to poor air quality given the right weather conditions.

With mining companies seeking extensions to a number of operations including Glendell, Mangoola and Mt Pleasant and new mines such as Wambo United coming online the question of their impacts on air quality remains.

The body that gives planning approval to these coal mines the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) appears, given its recent decisions in the case of Rix's Creek and Maxwell Underground to consider air quality in the Upper Hunter is manageable.

However 325 alerts for a year of well above average rainfall and reduced production may suggest the IPC needs to take a more detailed look at the cumulative impacts of air quality and the costs to our health.