For decades, postcode 2304 had the dubious reputation of being Newcastle’s most toxic address, but new data shows air pollution levels have dropped sharply over the past five years.
An analysis of National Pollution Inventory data for the postcode, which includes Kooragang, Mayfield, Warabrook and Sandgate, shows levels of 16 major airborne pollutants such as ammonia, flouride, oxides of nitrogen have decreased sharply.
But for many residents living in the shadow of the nearby coal loaders, dust pollution has emerged as their number one concern.
The reduction in pollution emissions over a short period of time contrasts to the challenges of legacy pollution across the city.
As the Herald reported on Wednesday, large parts of Newcastle are still contaminated with heavy metals deposited decades ago.
The majority of the pollution reductions in postcode 2304 can be attributed to tougher pollution controls placed on area’s big industries. Orica was forced to invest $250 million on pollution control measures at its Kooragang Island facility following the uncontrolled release of hexavalent chromium in 2011.
From the archive: 2013 study shows dangerous levels of air pollution at Newcastle
For Mayfield resident Patrick O’Connor, the latest figures are bittersweet.
“I agree that pollution has improved in the past 10 years, but when I change the filters in my home’s ventilation system every six months they are black with dust,” he said.
I agree that pollution has improved in the past 10 years, but when I change the filters in my home’s ventilation system every six months they are black with dust.- Mayfield resident Patrick O’Connor
“The coal loaders are the big concern for people around here these days.”
Particulate (dust) levels in the postcode dropped by 57 per cent for fine (PM2.5) particulates and 38 per cent for coarse (PM10) particulates.
But the data also shows that fine (PM2.5) particulate pollution from Port Waratah Coal Service’s coal loading operations increased by 77 per cent over past five years.
A Port Waratah Coal Services spokesman said the company’s fine particle figures increased from 91kg in 2010/2011 to 161kg 2016/2017. The 2016/2017 figure represented 0.19 per cent of all fine particle emissions in the 2304 postcode area.
“All Port Waratah’s PM2.5 (fine particle) emissions are related to the combustion of fuel from vehicles used at Port Waratah. The 70kg increase is attributable to better accounting of vehicle fuel consumption over time, along with a transition to a majority diesel fleet. In 2010/2011, the majority of Port Waratah vehicles used unleaded petrol,” a company statement said.
“By 2016/2017 most had been replaced with diesel vehicles. Under National Pollution Invetory calculation methodologies, diesel vehicles are assumed to produce more PM2.5 emissions than unleaded vehicles.
“This 70kg increase correlates to 270 return trip from Beresfield to Wahroonga by an articulated truck on the M1.”
Another Mayfield resident, John Hayes, said the postcode faced different pollution challenges to those of decades gone by.
“It’s a very different place to when BHP was operating, but there is still a lot of pollution around,” he said.
“A lot of it is coming from motor vehicles on Industrial Drive.”
Former Mayfield resident and Environment Justice Australia researcher James Whelan said the apparent reduction in toxic emissions from polluting industries in and around Mayfield was welcome.
“Any reduction in toxic pollution has real and immediate health benefits,” he said.
An Environment Protection Authority spokeswoman said the authority was committed to reducing pollution and worked all licensed industry operators to ensure that they are actively working to reduce emissions and improve long term environmental performance.
A number of initiatives have been implemented to reduce emissions at Mayfield including the installation of automated dust management systems at coal loaders and the requirement for coal loaders to modify their operations during adverse weather.
It has also introduced the requirement to improve dust management from coal wagons to minimise coal dust during rail transport, which was required via an EPA Pollution Reduction Program.
“The EPA has also required improved emission monitoring and dust management at industrial sites, including through inspections and the issuing of Pollution Reduction Programs,” the spokeswoman said.
“The Office of Environment and Heritage air quality monitoring site at Mayfield indicates annual average PM10 and PM2.5 concentrations are below the national standards.
Dr Whelan said there was still an urgent need for an overarching strategy to reduce toxic air pollution in NSW.
“The NSW Government released an ‘Air Options Paper’ in late 2016 that was meant to be the first draft of an air pollution control strategy for the state,” he said.
“Several hundred people made submissions on this draft strategy, but there’s been no sign of progress on the strategy from the EPA."
Dr Whelan said the Load-Based Licencing scheme was the key element in the NSW Government’s policies and programs to control and reduce toxic air pollution.
Under the load-based licencing, polluters pay a fee based on emissions of specific toxic substances.
“For this scheme to be an effective incentive for pollution control, fees need to be much higher,” he said.
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