Media release

Cover coal wagons: Enough studies, time to act

October 16, 2015


The NSW EPA’s latest report into the controversial issue of particle pollution from uncovered coal wagons in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley has prompted community and environment groups to call on the EPA to instruct the region’s coal industry to cover and wash coal wagons to protect the community’s health.

“Around the world, coal wagons are covered and washed to control dust emissions,” said Environmental Justice Australia researcher Dr James Whelan.

“That measure should be implemented in the Hunter as a matter of urgency.”

Dr Whelan pointed to three recent instances of coal wagons being covered, even where much smaller volumes of coal are being transported through much less populated regions. Coal wagons will be covered in Bunbury WA, the NSW Southern Highlands and in Oakland, California.

Yesterday’s report was the latest in an ongoing series of investigations into dangerous particle and diesel emissions caused by uncovered coal trains.  The Report follows a controversial short-term study commissioned by the Commonwealth-owned Australian Rail Track Corporation which leases the Hunter Valley coal corridor.

The design of ARTC’s study has been criticised by technical experts within the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage and by Hunter health experts and activists.

  • The reliability of the data is called into question because pollution levels recorded at Metford increased 3 minutes BEFORE coal trains passed
  • Analysis of emissions at just one point along a coal corridor that is more than 50km long does not provide sufficient information about pollution along the entire corridor
  • Pollution monitors were placed upwind of coal trains and the study did not factor in wind direction.

“Re-analysis of the poorly-designed ARTC study won’t provide a definitive answer to the vexing question of how much particle pollution is caused by the Hunter’s uncovered coal wagons,” Dr Whelan said.

“We don’t understand why the NSW EPA doesn’t simply instruct the coal industry to cover coal wagons,” said Mr John Hayes, spokesperson for the Correct Planning and Consultation for Mayfield.

Members of Mr Hayes’ residents’ group live alongside and near the coal corridor of the world’s largest coal terminal.

“Professor Ryan’s report confirms our concern that coal dust spilled by uncovered wagons is stirred up when coal trains pass,” said Mr Hayes. “In my opinion, we don’t need another study. It’s time for the EPA to insist on that all coal wagons are covered and washed, consistent with best practice.”

Suggestions that wagons be veneered (sprayed) to control dust emissions were greeted with derision.

“Covering and washing coal wagons is recognised as best practice and there is no independent evidence that veneering achieves anywhere near the emission reduction achieved with covers.” said Mr Hayes. “In the world’s largest coal port, we deserve best practice.”

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