BUTCHER'S sausages and the world's biggest company, BHP, are at the centre of a storm after Mount Arthur coalmine was fined $1500 this week for blasts that left Camberwell choking.
The Sydney butcher's fine of $7500 for preservative-loaded sausages that posed a risk to asthmatics exposed the "offensively low" penalties when coalmines breached conditions and threatened people's health, Camberwell residents and environment groups said.
"It just makes an absolute mockery of it all," said Singleton Healthy Environment Group spokesman John Drinan.
The Sydney butcher was fined, named and shamed in June this year for having an "illegal level" of sulphur dioxide in his lamb, lemon and oregano sausages, and pork, wild mushroom and garlic sausages.
"Some people, particularly asthmatics, are sensitive to sulphur dioxide," the NSW Food Authority said.
Mount Arthur mine allowed explosives to remain in the ground for too long before detonating them on October 10 and 17, the NSW Environment Protection Authority said.
It was longer than recommended by the manufacturer and resulted in "excessive blast fumes" on October 10 during hot, dry and windy conditions, the EPA said.
Despite complaints, the mine repeated the process a week later, in similar conditions.
This left Camberwell with "hazardous" air quality on October 17, prompting health warnings for asthmatics, the elderly and children.
EPA north director Gary Davey said the EPA "encouraged the mine to give greater consideration to regional air quality in determining which activities should be undertaken on dry or windy days".
The comment outraged Mr Drinan, who said it was "absurd" for a regulator to talk about "encouraging" a mine to act responsibly.
"It shows these really are token gestures. It's absolutely intolerable that coalmining is exempt from so much environmental legislation that applies to everybody else.
"The EPA should be requiring coalmines to modify their behaviour, and $1500 fines is not the way to do it."
NSW Greens environment spokesperson Dr Mehreen Faruqi said it was clear the NSW government needed to give the EPA the power to issue meaningful fines.
"A $1500 fine for environmental damage is not even a drop in the ocean for a company that made more than $12 billion in profits last year," Dr Faruqi said.
Former Singleton councillor and asthmatic Lyn MacBain said the fine was particularly offensive because despite complaints about the October 10 blast, Mount Arthur repeated the exercise a week later in similar conditions.
"They chose to ignore the recommended process because what's the most that can happen to them? A $1500 fine.
"It has no impact at all, clearly, because they went ahead and did it again.
"We've got about 23,000 people living in Singleton. I'm quite certain we'd see a change in attitude from the mines if they were fined $1500 for every Singleton resident."
Hunter Communities Network spokeswoman Bev Smiles said penalties needed to be commensurate with the extent of the problems mines were causing.
"There's no pain to the mines commensurate with the pain they're causing communities," Mrs Smiles said.
"The government very rarely takes these regulatory issues to the next step, courts, where operators actually get fined."
Minister for the Hunter George Souris said the community had "every right to feel there are inadequate sanctions being applied and that a review should be considered".
If systematic failures were behind repeated breaches "the community has been let down and higher standards, as well as higher sanctions, need to be considered", he said.
A spokesperson for Mount Arthur Coal said the company took its environmental obligations very seriously and would continue to work to improve the way it managed impacts from its operations.
Environment Minister Robyn Parker said a review of penalty notice legislation would be completed next year.
BHP’s Mount Arthur does a double whammy blast in October: $1500
Sydney butcher preservative-loads his sausages in June: $7500
Morpeth cafe permits a dog in its dining area in April: $440
Mount Thorley Warkworth’s excessive blast in August: $3000
Newcastle retailer supplies spray paint to juveniles in July: $3300
Hunter fisherman breaches amateur fish catch laws: $1000
Driver caught doing 54km/h in 40km/h school zone in December: $319
Happy Cabby Pty Ltd underpays seven employees: $286,704
Mount Thorley fined in August for polluted water release into the Hunter: $45,000
Environmentalist Jonathan Moylan’s potential fine if convicted of protest against Whitehaven’s Maules Creek open cut coalmine: $500,000