Controversial Hunter Valley coal dust report gets review

A statistician will conduct an independent review of data on dust emissions in the Hunter Valley after a report handed down by the Australian Rail Track Corporation was slammed in a peer review.

The state’s chief scientist said a statistician, who will be appointed in the coming weeks, would assess the data which made up the ARTC’s report.

The review comes after claims by Dr Luke Knibbs from the University of Queensland that the ARTC study contained major errors that affected the conclusions, Newcastle Herald reported.

As a result, Environment Protection Authority chairman Barry Buffier requested NSW chief scientist Mary O’Kane appoint a statistical expert to analysis the data used by ARTC.

A spokesman for O’Kane said that a candidate had been identified.

After two months of tests the ARTC report concluded: “loaded coal trains operating on the Hunter Valley rail network, when measured at Metford, did not have a statistically stronger association with elevated particulate matter concentrations than other trains.”

However the report was slammed by local community groups as well as The Greens.

Coal Terminal Action Group James Whelan said fifteen of the report’s eighteen conclusions were changed after receiving an earlier leaked version of the findings.

“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.”

Yesterday Whelan and his group started conducting their own testing of coal train dust in the Lower Hunter.

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 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.

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