Lake Macquarie Electorate Air Pollution

15th October 2015

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) [12.33 p.m.]: I move:

That this House:

(1)     Notes that new National Pollution Inventory data shows air pollution from New South Wales mines has doubled in the past five years and that coal-fired power stations and coal terminals also recorded increases in emissions.

(2)     Notes that the Lake Macquarie electorate has five operational mines, fallout from two coal-fired power stations and a coal preparation plant, and its road and rail system carries hundreds of coal trucks and numerous coal trains every day.

(3)     Calls on the Minister for the Environment to allay residents' fears about pollution in southern and western Lake Macquarie, and establish in the immediate area an independent ambient air pollution monitor, operated by the Environment Protection Authority to provide reliable and more frequent data on air quality in the area.

I take this opportunity to raise the issue of air quality in Lake Macquarie. This is an ongoing issue in my electorate about which I have spoken in this House on a number of occasions. I have also had regular discussions with the office of the current environment Minister and his immediate predecessors, and the Environment Protection Authority [EPA]. I acknowledge in the Chamber the member for Charlestown, the mayor of Lake Macquarie. The local government area of Lake Macquarie, which encompasses my electorate, has been historically and continues to be a key coalmining area, with five operational mines, two coal-fired power stations, and a coal preparation plant at Teralba. It experiences hundreds of coal truck movements every day, in addition to numerous coal trains that pass through the area with uncovered wagons, in some cases within 100 metres of homes and schools.

Just this week the Planning Assessment Commission approved the Mandalong Mine Southern Extension project, ensuring that coal-related activity will be part of our community for years to come. As a result of this and other industrial activity, air pollution and its potential health impacts are matters of legitimate and immediate concern to my constituents. Figures recorded by the National Pollutant Inventory, a Federal Government internet database, consistently show Lake Macquarie has among the State's highest emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxides and particulate matter—pollutants considered to pose significant health risks. Recent data shows air pollution from New South Wales mines has doubled in the past five years and collective emissions from coal-fired power stations have also increased.

I acknowledge that there have been some improvements in the quantity of PM10 and PM2.5 emissions over the past five years by the power stations that operate in and near my electorate, Eraring and Vales Point. But there is still, by any measure, a significant quantity of pollutants from those operations and others, and yet we have no independent method of measuring them in real time. Eraring alone emitted 440,000 kilograms of PM10s and 225,000 kilograms of PM2.5s in 2013-14. A Lake Macquarie City Council submission to a Federal environment department review in 2014 estimated the health costs to the city from air pollution at between $95 million and $205 million per year—alarming figures, indeed, given that they relate mainly to premature mortality and aggravation of cardiovascular and respiratory disease.

I know that Doctors for the Environment Australia is also concerned about air quality issues in the Hunter generally and that a group of 28 doctors recently wrote to environment and health Ministers expressing concerns about air quality in the region and its effects on health. Dr Ben Ewald, a spokesman for the group, has indicated its support for an independent air quality monitor in Lake Macquarie. In 2013 I described to the House the concerns of constituents from Fassifern and Toronto in my electorate, who live along the railway line and who told me about the dust that regularly coats their outdoor furniture and rooftops. One resident who lives about 500 metres from the rail line said he filters coaldust from the top of his fish tank every morning.

At about that time, the Newcastle-based Coal Terminal Action Group released a dust signature study, which was featured on the ABC program Catalyst. It found that dust pollution levels increased by up to 13 times as coal trains pass through Hunter suburbs, and those elevated levels remained evident for up to four minutes after a train had passed. While there were differing opinions on the veracity of that independently funded study, the issue of airborne coal dust from trains is a real concern for people in my electorate, where schools at Argenton, Cardiff, Fassifern, Awaba, Toronto and Morisset, among others, are situated close to the railway line.

I have argued consistently that an independent air quality monitor should be located on the western side of the lake. Emissions in Lake Macquarie are measured by more than 20 industry monitors but there is no independent ambient air quality monitor operated by the Environment Protection Authority in the electorate. The closest are in Wyong and Newcastle. This means there is no reliable baseline information on air quality in Lake Macquarie and residents cannot access the hourly information on pollutants and particulates that is available online to residents of neighbouring Newcastle, from data recorded by EPA monitors in that area.

In addition, Lake Macquarie has been overlooked for inclusion in a number of recent initiatives to further investigate air quality in the lower Hunter, including the Lower Hunter particle characterisation study, the Hunter dust deposition study and the Newcastle Local Air Quality Monitoring Network. I have met with departmental officials and they always politely acknowledge my concerns, but when these studies come up, Lake Macquarie is invariably ignored—a glaring omission, given the level of industrial and coal-related activity in the area.

I acknowledge that the Minister wrote to me in July regarding my concerns about air quality monitoring in Lake Macquarie and that he and his staff have spoken with me on the issue several times since. I appreciate their interest. The Minister has indicated to me, as has the EPA, that air shed modelling of the region that will be produced from data collection being undertaken as part of the Lower Hunter particle characterisation study will provide information about air pollution in the Lake Macquarie area. This is not all about complaint; I welcome the fact that over the past month or so the EPA website has been updated and some two years of data on ambient air quality for Lake Macquarie from industry monitors has been published under the heading, "Lake Macquarie-Wyong".

That is finally providing some recognition for the area, which perhaps could have come about a little earlier. It is hoped that deploying a small number of ambient air monitors, especially for particulates, over a 12-month period would confirm the accuracy of industry-gathered data or direct our attention to any anomalies. Either way, it would be a good outcome for residents within the vicinity of coal industry activity in the area. I have reasonably frequent communication with, for example, Centennial Coal. It is quite supportive of my proposal. We know that coal is important to Lake Macquarie; however, I call on the Government to give priority to local health issues and get to the truth about industry air quality monitoring in our area.

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