Lake Macquarie, one of Australia’s east coast watery treasures, has lived with coal mining and assorted industries for 200 years.
It endured toxic emissions from the “sulphide Works” for most of last century, the small mining community of Boolaroo absorbing most of its hazardous surplus that either seeped into Cockle Creek or drifted airborne over that unfortunate village.
For the last 50 years the Lake has been home to coal-fired power stations, first at Wangi, then Eraring.
And forever it was peppered with mine shafts and threaded by railways carting the black booty to Newcastle for local use or sea export. These mines and lines in particular it tolerated, not because of boreholes’ tiny footprint, but the scattered townships fringing the Lake shire comprised, of course, coal miners’ families.
Now the worst version of coal extraction seeks to set up shop west of the lake, just south of Newstan Colliery at Blackalls Park.
This is the most central location possible to aggravate bemused residents of this recreational and lifestyle collective clustered around the 174 km shoreline.
“Bemused” because the millennial lake population has now only tenuous links to the coal industry. Residents relaxing on the western shore of this magnificent lake rub shoulders with the Hunter region’s wealthier citizens. Marmong, Bolton, Coal and Fishing Points are among the most exclusive locales one might choose to live.
If for no other reason, Centennial Coal, the proposer of Olstan open cut ‘auger’ coal mine, may have a fight on its hands.
Centennial Coal’s Olstan community project newsletter explains their intent and method lucidly, downloadable from project pages of their website.
Images of the Auger machine and aerial view of Olstan are courtesy of Centennial Coal.
Olstan is an open cut underground mine whose footprint appears not much greater than Newstan’s current stain.
Centennial intends to cut 4km of access pits 40 meters wide from which “auger” machines will drill horizontally into the coal seam.
Augers you already know as wood drills, post-hole diggers, or grain pumps, that resemble large metal corkscrews. Oh, and mining buffs will tell you the target seams are the Great Northern and Fassifern deposits.
After processing coal in a mobile crushing plant at Newstan, the coal will fire “local” power stations.
Centennial’s air quality and greenhouse gas assessments focus chiefly on dust.
Dust comes from land clearing, quarrying the massive trenches, coal drilling and extraction, coal crushing, stockpiles of loose material, and constant motion of a large number of heavy vehicles and mobile machinery. Dust ‘modelling’ closely studies total suspended particulates (TSP), dust deposition, and fine dust particles.
Dust is dust, and the only way to stop it being dusty is keep things wet, and fill holes when finished.
However, dusts aint dusts, Sol. Specifically, risks from finer dust particles have alarmed astute lakeside residents and provoked a media statement – with comprehensive analysis and citations – presented verbatim, below.
78,000 PEOPLE IN LAKE MACQUARIE AT RISK FROM MINE DUST
A community group has spoken out about the risk posed by dust from an open cut auger mine proposed by the Centennial Coal Company.
URGE has compiled census data showing how many people would be affected in various suburbs.
The affected population would include nearly all of western Lake Macquarie and stretches around the north of the lake as far as Belmont,” Mr Morris said.
This is the first time a mine like this has ever been proposed near so many people.”
According to Mr Morris, the affected population would include 6,000 at Eleebana, 8,000 at Warners Bay and Lakelands, 6,000 at Valentine and nearly 4,000 at Belmont.”
There would also be people affected at West Wallsend, Cameron Park, Edgeworth, Speers Point, Boolaroo, Argenton, Glendale, Macquarie Hills, Mount Hutton, Floraville, and Croudace Bay.
The dangerous mine dust is called Particulate Matter, or PM, and classified according to its size. The larger particles are called PM10 and it would take seven of these to equal the thickness of a human hair. The greatest risk comes from the smaller PM2.5, which is small enough to be drawn deep into the lungs.
It leads to increased respiratory symptoms, aggravation of asthma and premature death. The effects are worst on infants, children, adolescents and the elderly, particularly those with respiratory problems, heart conditions or diabetes.
According to Mr Morris, studies have found that fine particle pollution causes premature deaths by making lungs more vulnerable to infection.
“Recent studies have found that for longer-term exposure there is a direct relationship between levels of PM2.5 pollution and death rates,” said Mr Morris.
It has also been found that daily mortality rates are linked to daily PM2.5 levels. It has even been found that PM pollution directly contributes to cot deaths.”
A review of national air quality guidelines has been told that there is no safe level of exposure to PM2.5
The new mine would add to ambient levels of PM2.5 in the air, so it follows that there will be an increased risk of illness and death.
Removal of topsoil and overburden are the two greatest sources of dust from open cut mining operations. PM is easily entrained when wind speeds reach 19km/hr. over bare ground and stockpiles.
Finer particles remain suspended for longer,” said Mr Morris. “This is why so many suburbs would be at risk, even across the lake from the mine.”
The science behind dust fallout can be complex, but recent research in the United States shows that a simple linear model of dust dispersion based on wind direction is valid when dust is from a single source and travels over flat terrain.
This is why the risk extends to Warners Bay and beyond,” Mr Morris said.
With what is known about dispersal of PM2.5, everyone within 10km should be concerned,” said Mr Morris.
URGE and other groups have joined forces to oppose the mine.
There will be a meeting at the Public School in Charles St Blackalls Park, 6:30pm for a 7:00 start, on 14 May 2009.
The public meeting is being called by:
- SCAM – Southlake Communities Against the Mine
- NOCMFA – No Open Cut Mine For Awaba
- URGE – United Residents Group for the Environment of Lake Macquarie.
INFORMATION ON DISPERSION AND EFFECTS OF PARTICULATE MATTER (pm)
Health Impacts of PM
* National Pollution Inventory at the Dept. of Environment – Particulate matter
PM causes increased respiratory symptoms, aggravation of asthma and premature deaths. The risks are highest for sensitive groups such as the elderly and children. Smaller particles may be associated with the most adverse affects because they can be inhaled more deeply into the lungs.
* NSW Department of Health – Mine dust
PM2.5, which is smaller, is of greater concern than remainder of PM10.
PM will have greater effects on infants, children, adolescents and the elderly, particularly those with respiratory problems, heart conditions or diabetes.
* Lead Education and Abatement Design Group – Fine Particulates Air Pollution
- Fine particle pollution causes premature deaths by making lungs more vulnerable to infection.
- Tests on rats have showed that even short term exposure can cause death without other symptoms.
- Two studies have shown that for longer-term exposure there is a direct relationship between levels of PM2.5 pollution and death rates.
- Recent research shows that daily mortality rates are linked to daily PM2.5 levels.
- PM pollution directly contributes to cot deaths.
The Risks of PM
* Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) – Hidden Cost of Electricity
- p19 PM is responsible for the highest portion of health costs associated with air pollution.
- pp. 48-9 According to the World Health Association PM2.5 is more damaging than the remainder of PM10
* Environment Protection and Heritage Council (ANZ) – Ambient air quality
pp. 55,57 There is no safe level for exposure to PM2.5
* CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research – Properties of Australian fine particles
p 89 It is recommended that air quality measurements should be based on PM2.5 concentrations rather than PM10
How PM Would be Generated and Dispersed from Centennial’s Auger Mine
* Australian Network of Environmental Defenders Offices Inc. (ANEDO) – Air quality, dust monitoring
Removal of topsoil and overburden are the two greatest sources of dust from open cut mining operations. PM is easily entrained by wind and takes a long time to settle once airborne.
* NSW Dept. of Health – Fact sheet, Mine dust and you
PM is generated when wind blows over bare ground and stockpiles.
* US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – Fugitive dust sources
- Dust becomes entrained in air at wind speeds of 19km/hr. and above.
- PM2.5 will settle slowly because of air turbulence.
PM 2.5 particles will disperse farther than larger particles.
* US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – Urban fugitive dust emissions current knowledge
pp. 4-9, 4-11 A simple linear model of dust dispersion based on wind direction is appropriate for dust from a single source travelling over flat terrain.
* ABC News – BHP rejects open cut mine dust fears
16km is cited as an example of a safe distance from an open cut mine.
MAP OF CENSUS COLLECTION DISTRICTS
The small areas bounded by blue lines are the smallest collection areas used by the
Australian Bureau of Statistics.
POPULATION WITHIN 10km OF OLSTAN PROJECT
BASED ON 2006 CENSUS
The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that the population of Lake Macquarie increased from 191 995 in 2006 to 193 092 in 2007, an increase of 0.571%.
Applying the same percentage increase to the affected area for the period 2006 to 2008 gives a current population of 77,189 x 1.00571 x 1.00571 = 78,073