200 air quality breaches in Hunter 

THERE were more than 200 individual breaches of national and international air pollution standards in the Hunter during 2012, a cumulative analysis of air quality monitoring data has revealed.

The 17 monitoring stations across the Upper and Lower Hunter recorded 115 breaches, or ‘‘exceedances’’, of the national standard for particulate matter of 10 microns or less (PM10). Particle pollution contributes to respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, asthma, hospital admissions and premature death.

Ten of the Environment Protection Authority’s 17 stations recorded levels above the national standard up to 88.7micrograms per cubic metre, almost double the national standard of 50micrograms per cubic metre.

The five Hunter sites that record particulate matter of 2.5microns per cubic metre or less (PM2.5) registered 96 exceedances.

The Coal Terminal Action Group compiled the statistics as part of its campaign against the proposed fourth coal loader in Newcastle.

It added individual exceedance incidents, which some believe is a more accurate reflection of air quality problems, to make its report.

But Environment Protection Authority chief executive and chairman Barry Buffier said the group’s interpretation was misleading.

‘‘It [adding individual exceedances] results in higher numbers from double counting of events that occur simultaneously at multiple stations,’’ he said.

‘‘For example during a dust storm all 17 monitoring stations in the Hunter Valley may record levels that exceed the standard; national protocols determine that it is counted as one day, not 17 days.’’

A monitoring station installed in Stockton in October following 2011 Orica pollution incidents has also registered regular exceedances of the PM10 standard.

Stockton Community Action Group spokesman Keith Craig said the monitor had recorded 12 exceedances.

He said when the wind blew across from Kooragang Island you could see the PM10 levels ‘‘kick up’’.

Mr Buffier said the government was working to reduce emissions through the Upper Hunter Fine Particle Characterisation Study, the Dust Stop Program, the Upper Hunter and Lower Hunter air quality monitoring networks and working with coalmines to reduce on-site emissions.

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