Dump fire: No investigation into potentially toxic smoke (Queensland Times)

The investigation into the New Chum dump fire will not include analysis of air quality data that would show whether Ipswich residents were exposed to toxic smoke.

Dump operator Cleanaway, which reportedly has the only set of relevant air quality data, says only non-hazardous construction materials were in the cell which caught fire.

But Cleanaway declined to publicly reveal its air-quality monitoring data from the day.

An expert has labelled the Government's explanations on why no independent monitoring was done as false, and criticised the management of air pollution statewide.

The State Government launched its investigation after cell four caught fire on Sunday, July 2, sending huge plumes of smoke into the air, covering nearby suburbs. When asked, the Environment Department said the closest air monitoring station at Flinders View captured data on the day of the fire.

That data is publicly available online, but the wind was blowing the opposite way on July 2, blowing smoke over Collingwood Park and nearby suburbs.

Air quality expert, Environmental Justice's James Whelan said the State Government had failed in its responsibility to monitor pollution concentrations and labelled the state's management of air pollution poor.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services said firefighters on the ground determined no atmospheric monitoring was necessary.

Atmospheric monitoring for incidents like this is conducted if smoke is directly in the path of houses, a QFES spokesperson said.

Firefighters managed to successfully contain the blaze and ideal weather conditions sent smoke straight up to prevent it from travelling directly toward homes.

Dr Whelan said the idea that smoke went straight up and therefore didn't affect nearby residents was false.

The Brisbane airshed extends from the border ranges to the D'Aguilar range, from Moreton Bay to the Toowoomba range, Dr Whelan said.

Within the airshed, air pollution tends to recirculate for several days at a time before being flushed by weather events, with steadily increasing pollution concentrations.

Air pollution does not go straight up, but tends to circulate around south-east Queensland for many days.

When significant air pollution events occur, residents expect government departments to rigorously assess the pollution concentrations their communities are exposed to.

In this instance, it appears that the Queensland Government and Cleanaway failed to monitor the pollution concentrations that residents in Collingwood Park and nearby suburbs were exposed to.

During parliament sitting last week, Environment Minister Steven Miles said the department considered New Chum to be a well engineered facility, after explosive claims made by the ABC's Four Corners program.

Mr Miles said the July 2 fire was not caused by spontaneous coal combustion and said Cleanaway regularly reports to the State Government on a variety of data.

EHP officers inspected the site on July 3 and a further inspection is scheduled for September, Mr Miles said.

By Helen Spelitis

Published by the Queensland Times on 18 August 2017


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