Letter to the editor: Open cut pollution

The Gloucester community has reason to be alarmed about air pollution in the Hunter Valley. The Hunter’s 35 massive open cut coal mines are a long way from Gloucester, but the air pollution problems they create for Hunter Valley communities show just what may happen locally if the Rocky Hill mine proceeds.

During the last month, the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage issued 72 air pollution alerts for coarse particle pollution concentrations that exceeded the national standard. Coarse particle pollution (PM10) causes respiratory problems, worsens asthma and can exacerbate heart disease. It’s harmful at any concentration, and in several Hunter Valley communities concentrations reached more than double the national standard.

Why is this important for Gloucester? Open cut coal mines are responsible for about 90 per cent of the Hunter’s coarse particle pollution. Coal mining companies were instructed in 2011 to prepare a ‘best practice’ guide for controlling coal dust, so they (and we) know exactly what measures can be taken to reduce and control air pollution. That includes applying water to haul roads, reducing the height that coal is dumped from and ceasing operations on hot, windy days. But they haven’t done those things in the Hunter. They don’t because they are not compelled to. 

The NSW Environmental Protection Authority has the power to regulate air pollution from coal mines, to enforce and to prosecute. But they don’t.

Dr James Whelan

Researcher and Community Organiser

Environmental Justice Australia