AFTER a five-year battle, the air quality around Gunnedah and Narrabri will be monitored by the same government-run system as the rest of the state.
Previously, the dust pollution created by the towns’ nearby mines was monitored by the mining companies themselves, which environmentalist said showed a complete lack of transparency.
The new monitoring network, run by the NSW Department of Environment and Heritage (OEH), provides a rolling 24-hour average of region’s air quality. The Gunnedah station is located at Kitchener Park, while the Narrabri one is at the town’s airport.
Environmental Justice Australia research James Whelan said there was still more work to do, but the new system was a step in the right direction.
“Polluters generally reduce toxic emissions because communities are informed and regulators act,” he said.
In 2016, Dr Whelan audited months of data from the four stations operated by the region’s two big mining companies, Whitehaven and Idemitsu, and found it to be “false and misleading”.
He says the monitoring data from the new government-run network confirmed Whitehaven’s data was unreliable.
“Whitehaven’s monitoring data suggested that daily average coarse particle (PM10) concentrations were generally less than 10 microns per cubic metre, and often less than zero – which is not actually possible,” Dr Whelan said.
“The first two months of OEH monitoring shows that, in fact, PM10 concentrations generally range from 10 to 30 microns per cubic metre.”
Lock the Gate spokeswoman Georgina Woods said it was “a relief” the government had finally delivered the “basic first step”.
“Understanding regional air quality is only the beginning,” she said.
“The next step is to make sure coal mines are paying for the air pollution they create.
“Other industries must pay per kilogram of particulate pollution under the NSW load-based licencing scheme, but the biggest industrial source of particle pollution – coal mining – is currently exempt from the scheme.
“We all paying for the health consequences of air pollution. It’s only fair that the coal mining industry pay the cost of that damage.”
A Whitehaven Coal spokesperson said the company welcomed the measures by the NSW government to extend the air quality monitoring network in the Namoi Valley.
“The network extension will supplement existing monitoring stations run by industry and the Office of Environment and Heritage that already produce high-quality data,” they said.
“Available data indicates that the air quality in the Namoi Valley is consistently amongst the best in NSW.”
Idemitsu also welcomed the move, stating it “takes its compliance requirements very seriously and continues to meet all of its regulatory obligations for dust monitoring”.