Citizen Science conference hears about air pollution in NW NSW mining towns

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A Citizen Science group based in Maules Creek, near Narrabri, has been in Adelaide presenting at the national Australian Citizen Science Conference about the air pollution problems in coal mine affected communities in the NorthWest.

The Leard Forest Research Node has conducted dust monitoring in the vicinity of Maules Creek coal mine and Boggabri township, concluding that the current self-reporting by Whitehaven Coal does not reflect the lived experience of residents who experience excessive dust from open cut coal mines and uncovered coal train wagons.

Like other environmental groups, the LFRN has been critical of the high number of negative dust readings reported by Whitehaven Coal at its Maules Creek monitoring station, sometimes being up to 30% according to LFRN researcher Ms Amelie Vanderstock who last year won the University Medal for Science at the University of Sydney for her work on mine dust pollution in the Maules Creek-Boggabri area.

“My research revealed that more dust was deposited on the leaves of tomato plants along a 12 km transect closer to the Maules Creek, than was deposited further from the mine,” she said. “Yet Whitehaven argues that the dust is coming towards the mine from farms, forest and the outback.”

Another controversial aspect of Maules Creek mine reporting is the very high number of negative dust readings, which the NSW EPA appears to condone.

“The excuse for this high number of negative readings is that the air is too clean and causes the equipment to malfunction,” said Ms Vanderstock. ”However the number of negative values at Shenhua’s Breeza proposed mine – where there is currently no mine – is less than half of that at Maules Creek. Obviously the ‘air too clean’ theory requires further investigation”

“The 24-hour average PM10 concentrations self-reported by the company are often significantly low. Looking at all the monitoring data collected by the EPA in 45 locations around NSW, there are very few 24-hour average PM10 concentrations as low as Maules Creek, even in agricultural regions that have no open cut coal mines,” said Ms Vanderstock.

“There are many troubling question marks about the company’s self-reporting. The community has taken matters into its own hands and is now obtaining answers via the independent community science we do at Leard Forest Research Node,” said Ms Vanderstock.

Keynote Speaker at the conference was the Australian Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel.