National air quality standards review comes in the nick of time for NW

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Media Release 4.5.2015

The Federal Government’s National air quality standards review will be hearing about deeply worrying levels of dust in the 30 kilometre radius of affectation around the Boggabri and Maules Creek coal mines, according to a submission from Maules Creek community members.

“This submission includes accounts and photographs of daily coal dust haze, and regular nitrogen dioxide gas plumes, in the area,” said submission spokesperson Libby Laird. “Dust in rain water tanks and peoples’ water filters show that coal dust is spreading far wider than the mines care to admit.”

dust layers

“When you drill down into the facts in our submission, you realise that the impacts of these mines and their approvals is breathtaking,” said Ms Laird.

The Maules Creek Community Council states that the Leard Forest mine complex will cause the deposition of 18,000 tonnes of coal dust in the surrounding regions annually, 20 km north of Boggabri town. This estimate has never been successfully challenged.

The submission focuses on the main source of air pollution from the perspective of the Narrabri and Boggabri communities, which is the open cut mega coal mines.

“We maintain that the wealth of our region is based on the health of people, families and communities. A healthy environment and clean air is critical to our future, said Ms Laird.

“We need to monitor for the 2.5 micron particulate matter (PM2.5) which are said to be related to a host of health issues.”

“We need the air quality data presented in a meaningful way. We see larger particulates hanging in the air and the degradation to our local air quality. But we can’t see PM2.5 levels. And at an educational forum held in January at Maules Creek Community Hall, a doctor with expertise in impacts of coal mines on community health provided us with evidence that exposure to dust is dangerous. There is no safe exposure level without effects.

By its own admission, Whitehaven Coal’s mine states in its Air Quality Assessment that Year 10 will be the worst year of the 21 year Maules Creek mine, when many local properties will experience dust levels way higher than the present National Air Quality standards.

The mines may already be exceeding the National Air Quality Standards, said Ms Laird, we don’t know due to secrecy surrounding air quality data.

“In 2012, the Planning Assessment Commission, in its review of the Boggabri mine expansion actually said that ‘more detailed modelling of the potential cumulative impacts would be ideal.’ We agree. But was their modelling done?”

toxic plumeCoinciding with the National Air Quality Standards Review, the NSW EPA is also pushing forward with a New England and North West NSW air quality monitoring plan to be funded by the coal promoters by a levy attached to their EPA licence. This is similar to the industry funded monitoring schemes in the Upper Hunter Valley and Newcastle.

However in a joint push-back by Idemitsu Resources and Whitehaven Coal via the Chairman of their Community Consultative Committees, John Turner, the miners are fighting to avoid this responsibility. They are asking the NSW Government to pay.

“Whitehaven Coal promised its shareholders that it will be Australia’s lowest-cost coal miner, and now it is asking the NSW Government to exempted them from the air quality monitoring levy,” said Ms Laird.

It is absolutely necessary to protect the health of families in the North West. We ask that the EPAs industry levy be imposed on the mega mine complex and that they ensure that the mines manage their operations to prevent any health impacts. Multinationals should not be allowed to get away with making the NSW taxpayers pay for their obligation.

We also ask that the EPA publish the baseline air quality standards for the region and we are writing to the EPA to ask for them to conduct an independent audit of air quality for Maules Creek.

“When Boggabri Coal started up, traffic movements to the south on Manilla Rd went from 30 to 600 per day, and as a result many properties had to be bought up by the mine due to dust,” she said. “Now 66 former farm properties in the area are under mine ownership.”

Leard Forest mining was always meant to be underground mining, if at all. Since coal was first surveyed, local wisdom always held that it was too expensive to mine and export coal from Maules Creek. It appears, this wisdom still holds.”increased dust particles in rain water

Further information: For the full Maules Creek community submission to the Working Towards a National Clean Air Agreement Review: https://www.maulescreek.org/news/