THE battle over the impact on the Hunter region’s air quality from trains transporting coal in uncovered wagons escalated over the weekend following claims the state government and its environment watchdog covered up reports showing how coal trains increased air pollution.Hunter Community Environment Centre (HEC) says the studies conducted during 2012 and 2013 by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) clearly demonstrate that coal trains increase air pollution.HEC used Freedom of Information laws to gain access to 3,056 pages of correspondence between government departments, the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) and the coal industry which they state reveals a systematic cover up of the particle air pollution from the 4million uncovered coal wagons that pass through Newcastle each year.The environmental group has been actively pursuing the dust issue regarding coal trains for a number of years and last year initiated its own community-funded monitoring study that demonstrated particle pollution levels increase 1300 per cent when coal trains pass.HEC spokesman James Whelan said there has been a systematic cover up – a systematic public relations effort to conceal the extent and level of pollution by uncovered trains.“The EPA’s position that coal trains do not significantly increase particle pollution contradicts the results of ARTC’s monitoring and we now know through freedom of information that they locked in this position before they received the ARTC’s report,” Dr Whelan said.“The EP’s mission is to protect the NSW environment including human health – they have disregarded this mission, refused to regulate industry and instead engaged in deception and spin.”Dr Whelan has previously stated a leaked report from May 2013 showed 15 of its 18 conclusions had been changed resulting in final report that makes false claims that uncovered coal wagons do not cause an increase in air pollution.Commenting on the HEC claims EPA chair Barry Buffier, expressed disappointment saying the EPA has been working closely with communities in the Hunter to investigate particulate matter for many years and aims to provide the community with the best possible available advice and science on the subject.“If the HEC has evidence of any wrong doing then they should take that evidence to ICAC,” Mr Buffier said.“The purpose of these studies to monitor coal trains, which the EPA required the Australian Rail and Track Corporation (ARTC) to undertake, was to investigate whether coal dust from coal trains produced more particulate matter than other types of trains and determine whether covering coal wagons would have an impact on reducing particles.“It is important to understand that trains produce particulates. That is not what the studies were addressing. “The first ARTC report found that coal trains do not produce more particulates than other types of trains, however this study was undertaken during an extensive wet period and the EPA required a second study be undertaken. The second ARTC study found that coal trains do not produce more particle matter than other types of freight trains.“In order to ensure scientific rigour the EPA commissioned an independent peer review of the second ARTC report, this review found that additional statistical analysis of its data was required before any conclusion could be made.“Prof. Louise Ryan, UTS, an internationally recognised mathematician, was appointed to undertake a thorough independent review of the statistical analyses used in the ARTC report. Prof. Ryan found that there were some serious limitations with the statistical technique used in the report. Prof. Ryan recommended a re-analysis of the data and the EPA accepted her recommendation.The EPA has engaged Prof. Ryan to undertake this further analysis of the data and expects her report by February 21, 2014.
Singleton Coal Trains transporting coal in uncovered wagons.
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