The makeup of Upper Hunter air pollution needs to be reexamined due to significant changes in the region over the past decade, a Singleton GP believes.
While mining and power generation continue to be major contributors to air pollution, wood smoke is also a prominent part of the mix in winter.
"Inversion is usually pretty bad when the cold hits, so you can always see it. This winter seems to be a mix of wood smoke and mine dust," Dr Bob Vickers said.
The 2013 Upper Hunter fine particle characterisation study identified a range of air pollutants in the region ranging from mining dust to lawn mower smoke.
The study, which was based on 2012 data, was criticised by some for appearing to play down the impact of mining and power generation on air quality.
Dr Vickers said population and industrial change in the region warranted a new particle characterisation study.
"Many things have changed in recent years, particularly the number of mines, proximity to monitors, new housing developments and power station activity, which will also change as Liddell goes offline soon," Dr Vickers, who is also a member of Doctors for the Environment, said.
"If woods smoke is the predominant source of pollution we need action on it, the same applies if mine dust is the predominant source."
A NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment spokeswoman said reducing wood smoke emissions was a statewide priority.
"The Upper Hunter Air Quality Monitoring Winter 2020 report identified wood smoke as likely contributing to high PM2.5 (fine particle) levels in Camberwell, Muswellbrook and Singleton on three consecutive winter days in 2020," she said.
"The Air Quality Study for the NSW Greater Metropolitan Region published in November 2020, identified residential wood heaters as one of the primary human-related sources contributing to fine particle pollution across the Greater Metropolitan Region.
"Improved management of wood smoke emissions is a priority action in the Draft NSW Clean Air Strategy 2021-30."
The Upper Hunter Air Quality Monitoring Network has issued 36 air quality alerts to date this year, including several in recent days.
Despite increased regulation designed to reduce dust from mine sites in recent years, one resident said the initiatives had made little difference to air quality.
"It is a dust bowl, still too much exposed land, and failed government policies related to cumulative land exposure," they said.
Hunter environment groups earlier this year criticised the State Government's draft clean air strategy for failing to provide new solutions for improving the region's air quality.
The strategy outlines a whole of government approach for improving air quality and minimising adverse effects on human health.
Its priorities include better preparedness for pollution events, cleaner industry, cleaner transport, engines and fuels, healthier households and better places.
But environment groups argue the draft repeats the same findings about coal mining and air pollution in the Hunter that were canvased in a discussion paper five years ago.
Environmental Justice Australia lawyer Jocelyn McGarity described the draft document as disappointing.
"The draft clean air strategy does not contain firm commitments with measurable deadlines for delivery," she said.
"It's heavy on buzzword statements that suggest the government is "developing" or "reviewing" or will "work to" and "explore" achieving certain things. These statements lack detail, are non-committal and do not provide certainty to the community that firm actions have been created that will be carried through,"
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