Dust-level alerts should be issued in the same way as nuclear radiation pollution alerts, the Hunter Valley Protection Alliance believes.
The group also wants to see the 24-hour rolling-average system by which the Upper Hunter Air Quality Monitoring Network measures air pollution replaced with real-time alerts.
Group spokesman Jorge Tiaskal said people living around open-cut mines should have the same protection as those living near nuclear industries, such as the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor.
‘‘It would make a lot more sense [if air pollution was measured like radiation]. That way people could take immediate precautions to protect their health when the air quality was bad,’’ he said.
The group, which has more than 200 members, has analysed Upper Hunter Air Quality Monitoring Network data for the past two months.
The analysis shows 123 alerts were issued from September 23 to yesterday, mostly for particulate matter levels of 10 microns or less (PM10).
The monitors issued seven alerts over the past week, including four on Friday.
‘‘This is a lot of alerts considering that the 24-hour average health limits are not supposed to be exceeded more than five times per year,’’ Mr Tiaskal said.
‘‘We are really only scratching the surface of the health impacts.’’
The network, made up of 14 monitors throughout the Upper Hunter, has issued an unpredecented number of air-quality alerts in the past two months.
‘‘[The network] is definitely a step in the right direction – now we want something done to improve air quality,’’ Mr Tiaskal said.
An Office of Environment and Heritage spokeswoman said the network issued alerts as a precautionary measure when air particle levels reached a certain point.
‘‘However, national standards for particles are based on 24-hour calendar-day averages and not all alerts are an actual exceedence of the national air-quality standard for particles,’’ she said.
‘‘The [network] sites are strategically located in population centres and near mining operations. Dust alerts are not unusual from those network sites located close to mines,’’ she said.
Thoroughbred industry fears threat from deteriorating air quality
By Matt Kelly
The Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders Association fears hundreds of millions of livestock could be at risk because of the region’s deteriorating air quality.
The association is investigating possible links between increasing levels of coal dust in the Upper Hunter and equine respiratory health.
The region is recognised as the horse capital of Australia and is the second-largest thoroughbred breeding region in the world.
Association president and Scone veterinarian Dr Cameron Collins said the region’s deteriorating air quality had become a major concern.
‘‘It’s certainly an issue we are concerned about and it’s an issue that we are investigating,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s too early to say what we are going to find [from the investigation].’’
The association’s investigation follows new research released last week that found the human health effects of coalmining in the region had probably been underestimated.
Lead author of the Health and Social Harms of Coalmining in Local Communities report Ruth Colagiuri said while several previous studies had examined the social harms of coalmining relatively little research had been done into its health effects.
Dr Collins said similar research needed to be done to understand the industry’s effect on horses.
‘‘There’s an old scientific maxim; the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,’’ he said.
Dr Collins said the situation in the Upper Hunter was unique because other prime horse-breeding areas around the world were not surrounded by industry.
‘‘I’ve worked in central Kentucky in America where the major breeding area is and I’ve visited the major breeding areas in Ireland,’’ Dr Collins said.
‘‘There’s just nothing where there is likely to be the contamination or the cumulative effects that we have here.’’