Great cover up: wagon lids considered

THE NSW Environment Protection Authority chairman said last night that covering Hunter coal wagons could be considered as an option for eliminating dust emissions.

Barry Buffier said the authority had received the first round of air quality data collected from trackside monitors at Metford and Mayfield over the past nine months.

The remaining data is due to be delivered within the next month.

Mr Buffier said it was the authority’s intention to publicly release the data, which contains information about levels of particulate matter near the track.

Options to improve air quality would be discussed with industry and the community if the data revealed a pollution problem.

‘‘If there is a problem, will we be addressing the issue of covering rail cars? Absolutely,’’ Mr Buffier said. ‘‘Some of it could be physical coverage, some of it could be chemical coverage, so we would need to engage in public discussions.’’

His comments came after the majority of Hunter MPs expressed support for the Newcastle Herald’s Great Cover Up campaign to eliminate dust emissions from coal wagons.

Greens MP Cate Faehrmann said yesterday that Environment Minister Robyn Parker needed to take control of air pollution in Newcastle.

‘‘It is unacceptable that the Environment Protection Authority has been sitting back and waiting for industry to develop a work plan for coal dust while it’s clear people’s health is suffering,’’ Ms Faehrmann said.

‘‘The [authority] needs to issue a simple directive for coal wagons to be covered and that should happen immediately.’’

NSW Minerals Council chief executive Stephen Galilee said the council was keen to see the results of the air quality monitoring.

‘‘We’re keeping a close eye on the progress of this work so we can develop the right response,’’ he said.

‘‘Importantly, we want to make sure any solution is effective. We don’t want to see new costs imposed on the mining industry that have little or no impact on mitigating coal dust.’’

Mr Buffier said the authority was working on a broad range of programs to improve air quality in the Hunter.

These included the Upper Hunter air quality monitoring network, the soon-to-be opened Lower Hunter air quality monitoring network and legally binding pollution reduction programs at all Hunter mines.

‘‘The [authority] prides itself on making decisions based on objective analysis, but we do understand this is an issue of serious concern to residents in the Hunter Valley,’’ he said.

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