The Coal Terminal Action Group monitored pollution levels for three days last month as 70 empty and loaded coal trains passed through the Newcastle suburbs of Beresfield, Sandgate and Mayfield.
The group’s coal train pollution signature study report says the results of the monitoring show that 80% of the coal trains that passed produced recognisable levels of pollution.
“While coal trains pass, particle pollution concentrations increase up to 13 times pre-coal train levels,” the report said.
The study also noted that the pollution levels from coal trains were much higher than those from passenger and freight trains.
CTAG wants the NSW government to enforce the covering and washing of all loaded and unloaded coal wagons, echoing a Senate inquiry last week into air quality impacts on health that also recommended covering coal wagons.
The group also wants the state government to suspend the assessment of a proposed fourth coal terminal for Newcastle.
It is calling for an independent assessment of the health impacts of particulate pollution, claiming that previous industry studies were “dramatically modified at the last moment”
A statement from the NSW Minerals Council said the group's report failed to add any new information to existing knowledge on coal dust.
“There is no evidence in the report to suggest that the national health standards have been exceeded during the study,” it said.
“The report findings indicate that passing trains on the Hunter rail corridor generate dust and that the longer the train the longer the period that dust may be generated.
“The report also finds that loaded coal wagons appear to generate less dust than unloaded wagons.
“This has already been established by previous science-based research.”
The NSW Minerals Council said the report’s testing period was extremely limited, making reliable comparisons with other research difficult.
“Previous more extensive and credible research has found that coal dust makes up a small proportion of particles in Newcastle,” it said.
“Australia has among the strictest air quality standards in the world and monitoring around Newcastle, including 400m from the main rail line, has shown that air quality standards have been met in nine of the last 10 years, with the exceedence in 2009 being when dust storms affected air quality across the state.”