US expert talks on dangers of fine coal dust

POLLUTION: Professor Peter Orris addresses the meeting  in Mayfield East on air quality.  Pictures: Peter Stoop
POLLUTION: Professor Peter Orris addresses the meeting in Mayfield East on air quality. Pictures: Peter Stoop
  ATTENTIVE: Part of the crowd at the meeting hosted by the Coal Terminal Action Group in Mayfield.

ATTENTIVE: Part of the crowd at the meeting hosted by the Coal Terminal Action Group in Mayfield.

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FINE dust pollution, including coal dust, represented a significant community health threat, a United States air quality expert told a meeting at Mayfield last night.

Director of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University of Illinois, Chicago, Professor Peter Orris told the meeting that fine particulate matter levels were a growing source of concern for occupational health professionals.

About 80 people attended the meeting hosted by the Coal Terminal Action Group, a coalition of 14 community and environmental groups.

Professor Orris said the handling of coal in the United States, including its transport in uncovered coal wagons, was an obvious source of fine particulate pollution.

‘‘You see a good deal deposited on tracks over time,’’ he said. ‘‘That is transferred into homes and cars that are in the area.’’

Fine particulate matter (2.5 microns or smaller) had also been linked to a higher proportion of deaths than coarser dust particles (10 microns or smaller), Professor Orris said.

‘‘We are seeing an increase in asthma at a global level that we don’t understand,’’ Professor Orris said.

‘‘It is being reflected in younger people more than older people.’’

Port Waratah Coal Services chief executive Hennie Du Plooy last night questioned the Coal Terminal Action Group’s credibility.

‘‘A lot of the group’s members, for example Rising Tide, are ideologically opposed to coal and have histories of campaigning against anything to do with coal,’’ he said.

He said the group’s recent community survey appeared to have been structured, executed and reviewed by selected members of the Coal Terminal Action Group.