POLL: Toxins on rise in Hunter's most polluted suburbs

EDITORIAL: Air pollution comes back

Residents in the Hunter’s most toxic postcode footprint are being exposed to some toxins at levels more than 100 times higher than they were a decade ago.

Many residents of postcode 2304, which includes Kooragang, Mayfield, Warabrook and Sandgate, fear increasing industrial activity will bring a return to the pollution levels not experienced since BHP’s heyday.

A Newcastle Herald analysis of National Pollution Inventory data shows the number of pollution-generating industries in the area increased from nine to 16 between 2001 and 2011.

The number of pollutants  increased from 35 to 38.

While tougher pollution controls have resulted in a decrease in some emissions, such as arsenic, lead and mercury, others have increased.

Ammonia emissions increased 188per cent, benzene by 600per cent, sulphur dioxide by 312per cent and carbon monoxide by 6per cent.

The majority of the increased  industrial activity in the postcode area has occurred on Kooragang Island, which is set to become home to more industry in the next decade.

Among the largest is the proposed $5billion fourth coal loader.

The cumulative impacts of airborne pollutants are of greatest concern.

‘‘There’s certainly more pollution than there was a decade ago,’’ former BHP worker and lifelong Mayfield resident Gionni DiGravio said. 

‘‘If a place like Mayfield, one of the birthplaces of the Hunter, is still dealing with pollution issues then you know that’s where the country is at. We are still in the fossil fuel world, we are not really targeting new technology at all,’’ he said.

An Environment Protection Authority spokeswoman said  the conditions of environment protection licences  should prevent pollution, maintain environmental standards and monitor environmental performance.

The authority may also order licence holders to undertake pollution reduction programs.

‘‘For example, the [authority] recently required Koppers Carbon Materials to introduce nitrogen blanketing to naphthalene tanks on its premises ... resulting in a reduction in naphthalene emissions from the site’s process tanks.’’

New legislation was  introduced  to strengthen requirements for industry to notify and respond to pollution incidents in the wake of Orica’s  hexavalent chromium spill on Kooragang Island.

Greens MP Cate Faehrmann said pollution licences needed to take into account an industry’s cumulative effect rather than being assessed in isolation.

Mayfield residents want emissions study

CLAIRE Charles has lived in Mayfield for the past decade and could not be happier with the lifestyle enjoyed by residents.

In addition to its proximity to Newcastle and its beaches, Mayfield boasts a selection of historic homes equivalent to anywhere in Australia.

Having moved into the area soon after the closure of BHP, Ms Charles and her family did not experience the ‘‘bad old days’’ when residents complained that pollution rained down on them day and night.

But she is worried things could be turning for the worse.

‘‘I’ve noticed there are more industrial emissions and odours today than a few years ago,’’ she said.

‘‘The thing we worry about most is what’s in the odour.’’

Ms Charles is secretary of the Correct Planning for Mayfield Group.

A  master plan for the development of Newcastle Port, which includes land in Mayfield, is at the top of the group’s wishlist.

‘‘We really need to see that so we can get an idea of what sorts of industry will be operating in the area in years to come,’’ Ms Charles said.

The group is also lobbying for a health impact study for all new industry that wants to establish in the area.

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