Communities in the NSW Hunter region have been exposed to extraordinarily high levels of air pollution from coalmines during September and it's only going to get worse, an environmental researcher says.
The upper Hunter, which includes Camberwell, Mount Thorley, Singleton and Maison Dieu – all of which are surrounded by coalmines – experienced 72 alerts for elevated levels of PM10 particle pollution in September, NSW government data shows.
The pollution can decrease lung function and trigger asthma attacks,
I've never seen 72 air pollution alerts in the Hunter for a month … that's extraordinary, Environmental Justice Australia researcher James Whelan told AAP on Thursday.
Levels of PM10 exceeded hazardous conditions in Camberwell 14 times during September and, on one occasion, reached more than double the hazardous level at 229.7 micrograms per cubic metre.
We've had averages more than double the national standard … We've seen extraordinarily high levels, Dr Whelan said.
There isn't a safe level of PM10.
But what's more concerning is the lack of response from government and environment regulators, Dr Whelan argues.
He insists regulators should have responded after four or five alerts during the month.
They're turning a blind eye to pollutants, he said.
The researcher warns it's only going to get worse as hot and dry summer conditions contribute to greater air pollution.
But the situation could improve if NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton cracked down on coal companies that don't control mine pollution, Dr Whelan said.
A spokesman for the minister insists NSW and Australia have some of the most stringent standards for fine-particle pollution in the world.
This government championed the campaign to strengthen the national standards for airborne particles, the spokesman told AAP.
By Dominica Sanda, AAP
Published by The Australian on 12 October 2017