Peabody’s dusty mine angers locals

Mudgee District Environment Group (MDEG) has accused Peabody Energy’s Wilpinjong Coal of disregarding its Environmental Pollution Licence twice last week, resulting in clouds of coal dust blowing through the town of Wollar.

The group say the coal miner was operating heaving machinery to move overburdern during windy conditions on Thursday October 10, and Sunday October 13.

They say because the miner did not stop the operations during adverse weather, “clouds of polluting dust” were generated.

The group told the Mudgee Guardian they were “greatly concerned by the photographs taken by Wollar residents showing high levels of dust pollution leaving the mine site and blowing through the village”.

MDEG chairperson Bev Smiles said the mine had strict environmental management rules it had to comply with.

“The issue of dust pollution and health has been highlighted in communities in the Hunter Valley. This has caused the EPA to develop pollution reduction programs with stricter conditions,” she said.

“MDEG is concerned that Wilpinjong mine has not complied with conditions of their EPL which requires the cessation of handling of overburden material during adverse weather conditions.

“The wind has been so wild, no amount of water will suppress dust caused by large mine vehicles.

“Wilpinjong mine is required to cease the operation of mining activities during these type of conditions.”

Smiles said matter had been reported to the EPA.

A Peadbody spokesperson said the mine “takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously”.

“Given recent weather conditions with below average rainfall and high winds, the district has experienced higher than normal airborne dust levels,” she said.

“Notwithstanding this, the mine undertakes a range of activities to ensure that we control dust from site but also comply with environmental obligations.

“Wilpinjong Coal considers itself as a responsible and active member of the community.”

With community concerns over the potential health impacts of coal dust, the EPA launched the next stage of its dust management agenda in early September.

The Dust Stop Program enforces new standards on dust control, aiming to achieve an 80 per cent dust reduction by August next year.

Now it its third stage of implementation, the program requires all 30 of NSW open cut coal mines to assess their dust control plans including minimising haul road emissions and enforcing poor weather operation standards.

“Mine haul roads are generally dirt roads and sustain continuous heavy vehicle traffic,” EPA acting chief executive Mark Gifford said.

“Dust generated from haul roads within the mines is the biggest source of fine dust particles on most mine sites, contributing about 40 per cent of total emissions.”

While loading, dumping and moving overburden is also a major source of dust emissions at coal mines.

“When it is windy and dry, this [overburden] dust is more likely to leave mine sites, so tighter control is needed at these times,” Gifford said.

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