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DUST pollution levels increase by up to 13 times as coal trains pass through suburbs along the Hunter's coal corridor, an Australia-first study has found.
The Coal Terminal Action Group study, which examined the dust "signature" of coal trains, also revealed that unloaded coal trains were responsible for generating the most pollution.
In response to the study's findings, the NSW Environment Protection Authority revealed last night that a senior delegation had recently visited Queensland to investigate the veneering of coal trains (spraying the coal with a dust suppressant).
The Coal Terminal Action Group monitored concentrations of three sizes of particulate matter as coal wagons passed through Beresfield, Hexham, Waratah and Mayfield over three days in July.
The 70 coal trains that were measured resulted in increased pollution levels of between 200 per cent and 1200 per cent.
The findings have added to existing calls for coal wagons to be covered and come less than a week after a Senate inquiry into the effects of air quality on human health recommended all states and territories require industry to introduce covers on coal wagons.
"More than 100 loaded and unloaded coal trains pass through our suburbs each day already," Coal Terminal Action Group dust and health committee chairman James Whelan said. "That's more than 8000 coal wagons every day, dispersing millions of fine particles into the coal corridor where 30,000 people live and 25,000 children attend school."
The study found CityLink passenger trains did not produce a definable signature, while freight trains and the XPT produced signatures that were much smaller compared to those from coal trains.
The results were also at odds with two Australian Rail Track Corporation studies that concluded coal trains did not produce more dust than other trains.
The latest Coal Terminal Action Group study follows an earlier project which measured dust particles at Mayfield, Mayfield East, Carrington, Tighes Hill, Kotara, Hexham, Thornton, East Maitland and Lochinvar late last year.
Dust pollution levels in Tighes Hill and Carrington were found to be significantly higher than national air quality safety levels on at least five out of seven days.
Air-quality expert Howard Bridgman, who peer reviewed the latest study, said it had provided useful new information about particulate emissions from passing trains.
Environment Protection Authority chairman and chief executive Barry Buffier said the authority was continuing to investigate the issue of coal train dust emissions.
"We're considering the results of the study and we would like the opportunity to talk to [the Coal Terminal Action Group] about the results and look at the data in more detail," he said.
A NSW Minerals Council statement said the group's report failed to add to existing knowledge of the subject.
". . . at most the report . . . simply confirms that passing trains on the Hunter rail corridor generate dust, and that the longer the train the longer the period that dust may be generated," the statement said.
"This has already been established by previous science-based research. There is no evidence in the report to suggest that the national health standards have been exceeded during the study."
The council also said the report did not identify or quantify where the dust had come from and failed to provide any evidence that covering wagons would have any significant effect on mitigating particulate levels.