A SENIOR federal government minister has claimed dust pollution from coal trains isn’t dramatically higher than from passenger trains, as northern region communities continue to push for better air quality controls.
A spokesman for Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said the particulate matter emitted by coal trains was “not statistically significantly different to passenger trains”, following a rally against a fourth coal terminal in Newcastle on Saturday.
But Coal Terminal Action Group dust and health committee chairman James Whelan said Mr Albanese’s comments were wrong.
“We’re very unhappy the federal transport minister would weigh in in this way,” Dr Whelan said.
Health-related dust issues and concerns about coal train movements have been raised in such communities as Gunnedah and Quirindi as the coal industry expands in the Gunnedah Basin.
Coal train movements are expected to rise, with a report released last year anticipating trains would be passing through Gunnedah every 17 to 19 minutes within the next five years.
Liverpool Plains Shire Council mayor Ian Lobsey said the council was pushing for trains to cover their loads.
“We’ve made it clear over the last few years that it is a problem for people, particularly those living adjacent to the tracks,” Cr Lobsey said.
He said Whitehaven and BHP Billiton had set up dust monitors at Werris Creek and Quirindi respectively.
Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson has also previously called for the covering of all train loads.
Caroona Coal Action Group spokesman Tim Duddy said people living close to rail lines were experiencing issues with dust from train movements.
He said there were mitigation measures that would be in the best interests of both companies and communities, such as covering loads, but the companies were not taking them up.
Even if the dust problems were the result of all trains, Mr Duddy said, the coal industry had contributed to the problem through the increased number of movements.
Dr Whelan said it had been found trains could lose up to 3 per cent of their coal in transit.
He said dust monitoring by the Coal Terminal Action Group at 12 sites close to rail lines and stockpiles in the lower Hunter had revealed some places had levels more than 50 per cent higher than national standards.
Particle pollution had been linked to serious health impacts, he said, from asthma to premature death.
Gunnedah Shire Council has previously pushed for a rigorous air quality monitoring program throughout the Basin.
The North West Alliance Against Coal and Coal Seam Gas has been working to establish a health impact assessment, to measure the potential health issues related to coalmining and coal seam gas developments in the region.
The alliance of community groups wants to establish benchmarks for air quality and water quality testing.
A proposal for the assessment has been created and sent to the federal government, which is preparing written advice on the potential for resourcing.