Call for radiation-style alerts for mine neighbours

Social, legal and health issues related to unrestrained expansion of coal mines in Australia.

Call for radiation-style alerts for mine neighbours

Postby HVPA_research » Wed Nov 07, 2012 4:33 pm


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Yesterday I got a phone call from Mathew Kelly from the Newcastle Herald. We discussed the growing problem of the coal mining dust in the Hunter Valley. Mathew published the the article today

I welcome Mathew's interest and his effort to bring this issue in front of the NSW public. However, for the sake of accuracy I had to publish some clarification statements on the HVPA website (see I also must make a disclaimer: I am not the official spokesman for the Hunter Valley Protection Alliance and thoughts expressed in the article aand in this clarification statement are my own.

The important thing is that I very much welcome the existence of the Upper Hunter Air Quality Monitoring Network that was created and is supported by the NSW Department of Environment and Heritage. It is certainly a step in the right direction and a great initiative. It provides an excellent overview of the dust situation in the Hunter. I have, therefore, established a daily archive copy of some of the Department's data so that we can conveniently see the patterns of the dust history. Follow this link to see the archive:

I am having problems to publish this clarification as a comment to go with the original article.

Jorge Tlaskal
BULGA, Hunter Valley.


1.I am not the official spokesman for the Hunter Valley Protection Alliance, I merely look after the HVPA websites. HVPA members, like everyone else in our valley is very concerned about the health effects of the dust and noise emitted from the neighboring mines but they have not issued no official statement concerning the dust monitoring methods. All thoughts expressed here are my own – a resident of the Wollombi Brook valley surrounded by three expanding open cut coal mines and located in the ground zero of a coal seam gas exploration.

2.The village of Bulga, where I live, is currently under a threat. The Warkworth/Mount Thorley Mine (owned by Rio Tinto) wants to expand within 2.6km from the village. We are afraid that if the expansion goes ahead then our village will be destroyed by dust and noise pollution like several other Hunter villages. Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association is currently running an appeal in the Land and Environment Court to save the village.

3. The current regulatory system grants all new coal mining licenses and existing mine extensions on a project by project basis. The proponents hire private consultants to prove that there will not be any harmful environmental effects. I case of the dust pollution this is done by computer modelling. The models themselves are proprietary and the underlying assumptions are newer published. New or extended coal mines are always approved with some minor conditions that nobody ever checks or enforces. Coal mines operate under a system of self-regulation that is completely opaque to the general public. “NO DATA – NO PROBLEMS” is the motto and all miners just love it. They have their own, proprietary dust monitoring systems where they average the averages until all dust problems disappear. From time to time they produce environmental reports that show that all is fine. Yet we all know that the Valley is choking in dust! Our archive of the last two month data show that the Air Monitoring Network issues several health warnings almost every day

4.Introduction of the Upper Hunter Air Quality Monitoring Network has changed all that. We now know that there is a dust problem in the Hunter and the question now is what to do about it. The system itself is excellent. For each location it accumulates hourly dust measurements and calculates 24-hour sliding averages. If the PM10 for last 24 hours exceed PM10 value of 50 micrograms per cubic meter a health alarm is automatically dispatched to all subscribers. The on-line graphical display shows the overall situation in the Upper Hunter and details for 12 individual dust monitors. For each monitor it also shows table of hourly data including PM10, wind speed and wind direction. There are also 7-day history charts that show how the hourly dust levels change depending on wind speed/direction and on mining activities. History data can be also downloaded in summarized form i.e. as averages of averages. It does not seem possible to download hourly history for a range of date and times for detailed statistical analysis. Consequently, we have created our own dust data archives for PM10 in Bulga and Mount Thorley monitoring locations (see [url][url]).

5.The current air quality monitoring method, which is based on averaging dust averages, was presumably developed for monitoring air quality in metropolitan areas. I feel that it is not really suitable for monitoring of the huge dust problems in the Hunter. It hides the dust problems in the long-term averages. Perhaps the whole area needs a major re-thing. Perhaps we should abandon the “averaging of averages” method and start monitoring the dust cumulatively. Each mine should measure and calculate the amount of dust they produce and emit against some kind of statutory quota. Once they get over half of their quota they should be forced to change their mining practices so that their quota is never exceeded. Of course, each mine should make their environment monitoring system completely transparent and publish all their data on line to prove that they are doing the right thing. I am sure this can be done if the Government regulators put their minds to it.

6.Cumulative measurement method of harmful environmental factors is nothing new. The nuclear industry measures the human exposure to radiation cumulatively. Everyone wears a dosimeter badge all the time and it measures the exposure. Once the personal radiation limit is reached you have to stop doing what you are doing. I know this because I used to wear one of these badges and had to send them regularly to Lucas Heights for evaluation. One had to always think how to minimise the exposure in order to operate safely. Coal mines should be treated in the same way. Once the management people realise that the dust emissions can stop their production they will find a way to reduce the dust. Miners are very innovative if they have to be – used to work there.

7.Finally, the best way to reduce the coal mining dust pollution in residential areas surely must be not allow open cut mines within, say, 10 km from the towns and villages. NSW is a big place and there is no reason to mine in proximity to residential areas. I know that this is a novel concept and that miners would not like it. However, eventually we will have to decide if we want vibrant and productive rural Australia or outback country full of dusty holes, man-camps and CSG gasfields.

If I were the author of the above article I would probably finished with this quote from Sharyn Munro new book “Rich Land, Wasteland” ( Sharyn was the first who described the destruction of the rural countryside from the human perspective. We should all thank her.

“Every Australian politician ought be locked up with this book and not let out until they’ve read it; and then they should all be frog-marched around the devastated moonscapes that the mining industry has made while they were looking in some other direction.”
- Fred Baker, Knocklofty Press
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