Coal action group to conduct dust level tests

Community groups in the Hunter Valley will conduct their own testing of coal train dust after rejecting a recent environmental report that stated coal trains did not have stronger associations with elevated particulates.

The Coal Terminal Action Group, which represents around 21 community organisations in the region, has today begun the two day operation which will monitor coal trains as they pass through the Lower Hunter, SMH reported.

The action comes after the group slammed a recent report by The Australian Rail Track Corporation which found that loaded coal trains did not have a stronger association with elevates dust levels.

The group claimed the report was altered after receiving an earlier leaked version of the findings.

Group spokesman James Whelan said fifteen of the report’s eighteen conclusions were changed.

“In three instances, the opposite conclusions were stated,” he said.

“By deleting or inserting the word ‘no’ or ‘not’, a very different picture of the impacts of coal trains on air quality in Newcastle and the Lower Hunter is reached.

“Other conclusions were modified to significantly downplay the pollution levels associated with coal trains, and the released report saw three new conclusions added and one deleted.”

After raising $2500 needed for the study from social media crowd-sourcing, the action group will set up dust monitors similar to those used by the ARTC to calculate particulate pollution down to a micrometre in diameter at several sites near the rail corridor as loaded and unloaded coal wagons pass through Newcastle's suburbs.

The group said it expects to release its findings in six weeks.

The ARTC have previously defended their report and said despite the changes both versions of the report made the same finding that loaded coal trains on the Hunter network did not have higher particle emissions than other trains.

"The environmental consultants that prepared this report discovered an error in the calculations while preparing the final report and they adjusted the findings accordingly," it said in a statement.

NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon warned the federal government to disregard the ARTC data when considering of the health impacts of coal dust on Hunter communities.

A Senate inquiry into the impacts of coal dust in Newcastle began earlier this year.

“The ARTC report is compromised by methodological shortcomings, has not been independently reviewed and fails to consider the cumulative health impacts of dust from coal stockpiles, mining and road and rail transport,” Rhiannon said.

While Greens spokeswoman Jan Davis said the ARTC should have appointed an independent body to undertake the testing.

“I don’t believe the ARTC findings are the true results and I don’t think they should be conducting the study given their involvement with the coal industry,” she said.

Air quality in the Hunter has been an issue for residents for some time now as coal mining and haulage activity increased in the region.

“Communities in the Hunter Valley are increasingly worried about coal dust and its health impacts, especially with new coal mines and terminals,’’ Whelan said.

"Anybody who lives in Newcastle knows there is a blanketing of coal dust in many suburbs close to the coal loaders every day of the year, 365 days," Correct Planning and Consultation for Mayfield spokesperson John Hayes told The Newcastle Herald.

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