Leaked coal dust report sparks call for Special Commission of Inquiry.

Media Release

Wednesday 12 June 2013

The Coal Terminal Action Group is urging the NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell to set up a Special Commission of Inquiry after receiving a leaked version of the Australian Rail Track Corporation’s ‘Particulate Emissions from Coal Trains’ report. The conclusions in the leaked version dated 24 May contradict those in the released version of 30 May and indicate coal trains are much more polluting.

Chair of the Coal Terminal Action Group’s Dust and Health Committee, Dr James Whelan said this leaked report casts a very dark shadow over recent air quality and health assurances given by NSW Government agencies and the coal industry.

“It’s crucial that the NSW EPA base decisions about licencing and regulating polluters on impartial independent advice,” said Dr Whelan. “The published ARTC report is no basis for policy.”

The source suggested the data and conclusions had been changed “to suit the ARTC and the NSW Government agenda… to do nothing about dust from coal trains and pander to the coal industry.”

Fifteen of the report’s eighteen conclusions were changed between the 24 May and 30 May versions. In three instances, the opposite conclusions were stated. By deleting or inserting the word ‘no’ or ‘not’, a very different picture of the impacts of coal trains on air quality in Newcastle and the Lower Hunter is reached. Other conclusions were modified to significantly downplay the pollution levels associated with coal trains, and the released report saw three new conclusions added and one deleted.

The 24 May version concluded that both loaded and unloaded coal trains were associated with a statistically significant elevation in particulate matter concentrations when compared with the concentrations recorded when no train was passing the monitoring station. Average concentrations of PM10 increased by 3.5 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3) and 4.9 µg/m3 respectively. Six days later, the published version of the report concluded that loaded coal trains were not associated with a statistically significant difference in PM10 and PM2.5 compared with the ‘no train’ baseline.

“We call on Premier Barry O’Farrell to establish a Special Commission of Inquiry into coal dust in the Hunter,” said Dr Whelan. “This looks like a cover-up, and the truth needs to be established.”

“All Hunter Valley Coal Chain approvals should be frozen until the Special Commission of Inquiry has investigated the issue and handed down its recommendations,” said Dr Whelan.

“The EPA were set to release this report in mid April. How was it that the report’s conclusions changed so dramatically in late May, five months after the monitoring concluded and six weeks after the Chair of the EPA advised us he planned to release it?” Dr Whelan asked.

“It appears that a Commonwealth-owned corporation has provided the NSW Government with misleading information about the impact of coal trains on public health.”

Interviews: Dr James Whelan 0431 150 928 (Sydney) / Fee Mozeley (Newcastle) 0424 026 056.

Comment on technical aspects of the report: Associate Professor Nick Higginbotham 0419 264 849

A comprehensive briefing package is available from http://tinyurl.com/dustgate including a comparison of the conclusions in the two versions of the report; independent expert reviews of the 30 May report; a background briefing on ARTC and the community campaign to reduce coal dust pollution, links to the ARTC report and online videos of coal trains passing through Newcastle suburbs

The Coal Terminal Action Group is an alliance of 19 Newcastle and Hunter Valley community groups.

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