EPA to monitor air quality in Blue Mountains

This train's okay but not the coal wagons: “We’ve been pushing for action over pollution caused by the hundreds of huge coal trains that travel over the mountains every month,” says BMUC's Peter Lammiman (right) pictured with fellow member Nick Franklin.
This train's okay but not the coal wagons: “We’ve been pushing for action over pollution caused by the hundreds of huge coal trains that travel over the mountains every month,” says BMUC's Peter Lammiman (right) pictured with fellow member Nick Franklin.

The NSW Environment Protection Authority has backed down to pressure from the community –  especially relating to uncovered coal trains travelling up and down the Mountains –  and has resolved to monitor the Blue Mountains air quality for the first time.

Giselle Howard, the NSW Environment Protection Authority regional director, metropolitan, said they had responded to community concerns to bring in temporary testing.

The nearest NSW Office of Environment monitoring stations are at Bathurst and St Marys.

In an official statement to the Blue Mountains Gazette this month Ms Howard said: “The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has responded to concerns from the community around air quality in the Blue Mountains by requesting the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) undertake temporary air quality monitoring for a 12 month period.”

Concerns about air quality: BMUC members Nick Franklin and Peter Lammiman at Katoomba station last year offered to act as citizen scientists and measure the air themselves because of concerns about coal dust effects.

Concerns about air quality: BMUC members Nick Franklin and Peter Lammiman at Katoomba station last year offered to act as citizen scientists and measure the air themselves because of concerns about coal dust effects.

Blue Mountains Unions and Community welcomed the decision for extensive air monitoring as a “first step”.

Peter Lammiman, BMUC’s Cover the Coal Wagons Group co-ordinator, said: “We look forward to finding more about it. We regard air quality as an important public health issue which affects everyone in the community – an issue that needs to be above politics”.

The EPA revealed to the BMUC campaign earlier this year that between 15-22 loaded coal trains, many 60 wagons-long, travelled through the Mountains each day. 

Coal wagons are routinely covered in Queensland and Europe and doctors from the public health group - Doctors for the Environment - warned a BMUC meeting in Katoomba last year that pollution from the trains could contribute to heart and lung disease, as well as asthma and some cancers.

Ms Howard said as part of the process the EPA will hold “a workshop with relevant stakeholders to agree to the exact nature of the temporary monitoring in the area”. 

But the EPA is coy on revealing any more details such as the type of monitors and where they will be put.

Mr Lammiman believes a public forum should be held to inform the community and gain feedback before the monitoring group is established.

“It was made clear early in our negotiations that the Blue Mountains will not be getting monitors capable of establishing the level of coal dust specifically, or indeed pollution from diesel fumes that many believe to be a bigger problem - we look forward to seeing what these monitors can deliver.

“We know that fresh air is one of the reasons so many people visit the world heritage-listed Blue Mountains National Park –  through this project we should begin to find out just how clean our air is, and what we can do to ensure it’s fresh and unpolluted,” Mr Lammiman said.

The EPA spokeswoman said the workshop is expected to take place in the next eight weeks with a view to starting monitoring in spring. The EPA will also be appealing for nominees to join a project steering group to oversee the monitoring program.

Last weekProfessor Jason Evans at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes told The Sydney Morning Herald that with more than 3000 premature deaths a year in Australia linked to urban air pollution, worsening low-level air quality could increase the toll.