Source: Newcastle Herald | By: Scott Bevan | Posted: November 25, 2020
Lake Macquarie finally has an independent air quality monitoring station.
The NSW government has built the $320,000 facility at Mirrabooka, on the lake's south-western side, and the monitoring station is due to be operating by the end of the week.
Environment Minister Matt Kean said the facility would allow the community to easily access information about local air quality.
"We've listened to the residents of Lake Macquarie who were concerned about air quality in their local area, and in response we've installed this new state-of-the-art air quality monitoring station," Mr Kean said.
"This new station will provide the communities around Lake Macquarie with accurate, near-real-time data about air quality in their area."
The facility is positioned roughly half way between the Eraring and Vales Point power stations, which are about six kilometres away from the new facility.
The coal-fired power stations are seen by residents and environmental groups as a major source of air pollution in the area.
While the power stations operate air monitoring facilities, the nearest units managed by the government are at Wyong, about 13 kilometres away from the Vales Point plant, and at Wallsend, more than 20 kilometres from the Eraring complex.
The state MP for Lake Macquarie, Greg Piper, welcomed the new facility, saying he had been calling for an independent air monitoring station in the area since he was elected in 2007.
"I've asked every Minister can we get a state-run air quality monitoring station," Mr Piper said.
"If nothing else, it gives some sense of certainty to the community that the others are correct, and it just gives extra data."
Greg Piper said the station could help monitor not just the power stations' emissions but also particulates in the air from local coal mining operations and vehicles.
"Why would the government not provide the area that's producing energy, producing coal, with a monitor embedded within it?," Mr Piper said.
Dr Ben Ewald, a local member of Doctors for the Environment Australia, said the station could provide residents with more objective information about local air quality.
"I think the readings will help people know what's in their air and increase public awareness of it," he said.
Ben Ewald has been studying the health impacts of air quality, including possible links between childhood asthma and nitrogen dioxide emissions from the power stations.
Dr Ewald hoped the readings from the new monitoring facility would put pressure on the NSW Environment Protection Authority to revise and update the power stations' licences and "very generous" air emission limits.
Gary Blaschke, from environmental group the Coal-ash Community Alliance, said an independent monitoring station at the lake was long overdue.
He argued there were 14 EPA monitoring stations in the Upper Hunter and six in the Lower Hunter, and just the one at Wyong.
"Even if you read that out, you'll see this region has been let down for a long, long time," he said.
Mr Blaschke said there should be more government-run stations around the lake, and that the information was acted on.
"We have to identify where the poor air quality is coming from and do something about it," he said.
Eraring power station is owned by energy company Origin.
A spokesperson for Origin said the company welcomed the "addition of a new independent air monitoring station in the Lake Macquarie area".
The spokesperson said the new facility would "complement two existing nearby stations [operated by Origin at Marks Point and Dora Creek] that continue to tell us air quality in the area is good to very good".
"We hope this provides further confidence to the community that air quality is monitored and managed closely at Eraring," the Origin spokesperson said.
The Environment Minister's office said data from the new station at the lake was expected to be accessible online by next week, helping residents get the information they needed on pollution levels to make informed decisions about how to manage potential health impacts.
Greg Piper has been an independent voice for the people of Lake Macquarie for more than 30 years, as a Member of Parliament, Mayor and councillor. He was elected to Lake Macquarie council in 1991, served as Mayor from 2004 until 2012 and has been the State MP for Lake Macquarie since 2007.