WHERE are the local members?
WHY aren’t they being interviewed for comment?
WHAT are the local members doing about this pollution?
WHY is this not front page news?
Pollies, it appears, are not worth a bumper, any of them …
Bet your last dollar if they were personally suffering the same sort of pollution in their home or street they would be jumping up and down and demanding it stop!
Q. Why not fine each MINE $1.5M per incident, and see what would happen?
FACT: The mining companies don’t seem to care about this at all as it seems it’s chicken feed or tea money if they are caught out.
‘Our pool is black’: Residents in NSW’s Upper Hunter vent air-pollution fears
25 OCTOBER 2019
For residents in the Upper Hunter, keeping an eye on air quality alerts from the Office of Environment and Heritage is a daily ritual.
- 2019 set to be the worst year for air pollution in the NSW Upper Hunter since monitoring began in 2010
- Residents vented their frustration at a community meeting in Muswellbrook
- The EPA fined one Hunter mine $15,000 for causing excessive dust on one day in 2018
Bulga resident Alan Leslie has been keeping count.
“There’s been 56 in October,” Mr Leslie said.
He pointed to a graph showing the annual number of alerts growing in the last five years.
“You look at the big numbers — they’re at Camberwell, Maison Dieu, Mt Thorley Warkworth,” he said.
Each alert is only safe for human health, according to national air quality guidelines, once a year.
2019 is already shaping up to be the worst year for air pollution in the Upper Hunter since monitoring began in 2010.
To give locals an opportunity to voice their concerns, the New South Wales Environment Protection Authority (EPA) held a drop-in information session in Muswellbrook, the first of its kind in the region.
‘Our pool’s just black’
In Muswellbrook, too, life comes with a coating of brown dust, as Col will tell you.
He and his wife Carol, who live in the centre of town, have both suffered lung conditions.
“We go out the back for a cup of coffee after lunch of a day and my wife’s got to clean all the outdoor furniture,” Col said.
“The amount of dust she gets off in 24 hours is just, you know, it’s in the air.
“Our pool’s just black, I’ve given up cleaning it.”
Janice Lee, also from Muswellbrook, finds it suffocating.
“When I’m in town I’ve got to use my puffer, and if I go to Sydney or the beaches or anything else, I’m fine.”
*Bushfires in the state’s west, and especially the drought, play a big part this year’s perfect dust storm — but the big concerns are the 20 or so coal mines around the region, expanding and creeping ever closer to local townships.
*They are also the region’s biggest employers, of thousands of people.
“You see it rising from [the mines],” Janice Lee said.
“I hear the trucks at night.
“It’s on top of our town.”
Policing coal mines
“Obviously we can’t control the drought, we can’t control the bushfires,” EPA state director north, Adam Gilligan, said.
“But we can control the contribution from man-made forces.
“That’s why we’ve got officers out in the field on days like today to make sure mines are doing the right thing.”
Most recently, the EPA announced in July that it had fined the Mount Arthur open cut-coal mine, near Muswellbrook, $15,000 for causing excessive dust one windy day in October last year.
Vehicles at the mine were “photographed operating and generating dust which was being blown off premises … Given the conditions, work should have been modified using additional water carts or stopped altogether”.
The New South Wales Minerals Council said mines use a raft of measures to monitor and control dust according to government standards, and they invest in the Upper Hunter Air Quality Monitoring Network which helped run the event.
But residents and coalminers alike have told the ABC they believe these types of incidents have happened many times at mines in the Hunter Valley since then.
Mr Gilligan and his staff, as well as scientists from the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, dealt with some furious locals at the Muswellbrook event who felt the government was not doing enough to penalise mining companies for breaching dust minimisation rules.
Bulga resident Alan Leslie described his experience with the EPA as “pathetic”.
He and Chris Kelly, who manages Abbey Green at Singleton, both described sending detailed complaints and receiving no response.
“Best they can do is they give them a warning letter, then a prosecution, and maybe fine them 15 thousand dollars,” he said.
“They’d spend more than that on morning tea. It’s ridiculous.
“They should be being fined millions, not thousands — they make millions of dollars.”
Clearing out if it does not clear up
Upper Hunter doctors, including Singleton GP Bob Vickers, said they are seeing a growing number of patients with respiratory illnesses in the Upper Hunter which they attribute to poor air quality.
“This town is great, the schools are great,” Muswellbrook’s Janice Lee said.
“But we don’t want our children subjected to all this dust from the mines.”
Singleton farm manager Chris Kelly said he borrowed a camera from the EPA and “filmed the dust coming out of Mount Thorley Warkworth every day for three months … gave it back and nothing happened”.
The EPA’s Adam Gilligan spent much of the Muswellbrook drop-in session assuring residents their concerns would be followed up.
“What we tend to see is that mining companies and industry more broadly do take receiving penalty notices very seriously,” Mr Gilligan said.
“It’s not something they want to have to report to their boards, particularly multinational companies.
“Generally speaking, we’re seeing good practice by the mines. At this stage, the program we’ve been running throughout spring hasn’t resulted in significant regulatory action because mines are recognising that under those poor weather conditions, they need to be on their game.”
But some residents like Col are almost ready to admit defeat; he and his wife talk often about leaving once their youngest son moves out, but they don’t think they can afford to.
“We’ve been going to leave for ages. But we wouldn’t get the money for our house,” he said.
“To relocate to a place like Maitland, we’d want another hundred thousand to buy a house down there.
“That doesn’t look like it’ll happen.”