It’s being described as an emergency – air pollution in Singleton and Muswellbrook is now at its highest point since monitoring began in 2010.
The EPA is blaming dust, blown in from drought-ravaged areas… but others are pointing the finger at local mines.
The EPA has provided a detailed response:
Particulate pollution in the Hunter Valley is caused by a range of factors which this year include dust storms associated with the current drought, high winds, bush fires and hazard reduction burns, as well as industry.
Those drought conditions mean there is rapidly declining vegetation cover, with as much as 46 per cent of land area exposed to wind erosion compared to around three per cent in non-drought years, according to the Combined Drought Indicator*.
On Monday 7 October a significant dust storm impacted a large part of inland NSW, particularly the northern half of the state, coinciding with the passage of a cold front bringing strong winds. Elevated particulate levels associated with that weather were recorded in many areas and increased dust conditions can be expected to continue until significant rainfall is received.
The EPA inspected mining operations on Monday 7 October throughout the Hunter Valley and all mines inspected were implementing appropriate protections.
The NSW Air Quality Monitoring Network operated by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, is the most comprehensive in Australia with 86 stations across the state reporting local and regional air quality in close to real time. This includes 14 stations in the Upper Hunter and six in the lower Hunter.
EPA Regulation of Industry
The EPA regulates operating coal mines and power stations through enforceable environment protection licences and compliance checks.
These include regular inspections including using drones, real time air quality monitoring and targeted campaigns such as “Bust the Dust” currently underway in the Hunter Valley. Mines are required to implement actions to minimise dust from mining activities, especially in dry and windy conditions. The community can follow updates about the “Bust the Dust” campaign on the EPA’s Twitter account. Quarterly overviews of on air quality in the region can be found at https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/topics/air/upper-hunter-air-quality-reports
*Combined Drought Indicator https://edis.dpi.nsw.gov.au/