Hunter mine fined over dust

Rio Tinto's Mt Thorley Warkworth coal mine has been fined by the NSW Department of Planning and Infrastructure after excessive dust was found to be leaving the site.

A $3000 fine was issued after an investigation into "significant dust emissions” from the Mt Thorley Warkworth mine on October 10, the Department says.

In response to the incident, the miner has said it will take additional action to manage the dust and has proposed the installation of dust cameras.

The mine was also fined for dust emissions in May after a breach for significant dust emissions.

The miner had been warned that "further breaches for dust emissions are likely to attract stronger enforcement action by the Department, including the potential for criminal proceedings in the Land and Environment Court".

Dust levels in the Hunter have caused heightened community concern in recent months with The Hunter Valley Protection Alliance calling for the current 24-hour rolling-average, which the Upper Hunter Air Quality Monitoring Network (UHAQMN) use to measure air pollution, replaced with real-time alerts.

The group believes people living in close proximity to open-cut mines should have the same protection as those living near nuclear sites, such as the Lucas Heights 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,’’ group spokesman Jorge 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.

Earlier this month a Hunter Valley mine said it has been forced to halt operations on a daily basis to avoid producing excess dust.

Mount Arthur Coal Mines says it is serious about addressing community concerns surrounding the air quality in the Upper Hunter.

BHP Billiton's Peter Sharpe said controlling dust emissions had become increasingly difficult.

"Certainly over the last few months there've been very extreme conditions – dry and high winds," he said.

"I can't recall over the last few months that we've had a shift where we actually haven't had to stop some of our equipment because we were starting to get up into the upper limits of our acceptable dust generations."

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