Petition for covered coal wagons

NO DUST:  Campaigners James Whelan and Fee Mozeley.  Picture: Peter Stoop
NO DUST: Campaigners James Whelan and Fee Mozeley. Picture: Peter Stoop

MORE than 100 groups across the state will unite today to launch a petition calling for thousands of coal wagons to be covered.

Following the Newcastle Herald's Great Cover Up campaign, the groups are demanding that the government take direct action to stop fine-particle pollution from coal wagons.

The groups, which include representatives from the Hunter, Sydney, Blue Mountains and Central West, aim to gather more than 10,000 signatures by the end of March. That would then trigger a parliamentary debate.

"Covering coal wagons is a win-win," Hunter Communities Network representative Bev Smiles said.

"This cheap and simple measure will protect community health and save industry money for about one thousandth of the cost of the coal in each wagon. We have no idea why the mining industry hasn't done it already."

The campaign has the backing of Labor environment spokesman Luke Foley.

"We are well aware of the level of concern about this issue as a result of the lead the Newcastle Herald has taken on this issue over the last couple of years," he said.

"We are talking to the community and industry as part of the process of developing policies on coal dust pollution.

"Covering the wagons is a matter we are considering."

Parramatta Climate Action Network spokesman Phil Bradley said groups along the main western rail line had taken a close interest in events in the Hunter.

"You can smell the dust on the station. But of course, it travels much further. We are particularly concerned about the impact that coal dust has on children who go to school along the line.

"Our network members will be out encouraging people to participate in the campaign."

Several high-profile public health studies have shown that particle pollution contributes to increased incidents of respiratory and cardiovascular illness.

A dust signature study undertaken by community groups along the Hunter coal corridor last year found levels of particulate matter less than 10 microns in diameter increased 1200 per cent as coal trains passed.

A Senate inquiry into health and air quality last year recommended that coal wagons be covered.

"It's time Premier O'Farrell and his ministers took action to protect the health of the tens of thousands of people who live close to coal trains in the Hunter Valley, Newcastle and other parts of the state," Hunter Community Environment Centre spokeswoman Fee Mozeley said.

"We've had a gutful of cover-ups by the Environment Protection Authority, leaked reports and industry denials that coal wagons pollute."

The Environment Protection Authority is awaiting the outcome of an independent review of an Australian Rail Track Corporation report into dust emissions from coal trains. The study found coal trains did not produce more dust emissions than other types of trains.

However, the statistical analysis of the data used to draw the study's conclusions was later found to be flawed and is the subject of an independent review by Professor Louise Ryan.

Authority chairman and chief executive Barry Buffier said the authority took the issue of air quality in the Hunter region very seriously.

It had invested significant resources, both time and money, on evaluating air-quality issues in the region.

"A key study into air quality in the Upper Hunter was released in September 2013 and has provided critical evidence about particulate pollution and informed actions undertaken by the EPA and other parts of government to reduce particle pollution in the Upper Hunter, including emissions from mines," Mr Buffier said.

"Further studies evaluating air-quality issues in the Newcastle and the Lower Hunter region will begin soon."

The EPA has been working closely with the community in response to their concerns.

It has done a great deal of work to address community concerns on dust emissions.

"We will impose additional requirements on industry where the evidence shows that these will be effective," he said.

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