Don't Forget to Do the Dusting!
Queensland Labor Party Supports Tough Measures To Minimize Air Pollution Caused By Coal Dust
In December, we witnessed the Labor Party of Queensland supporting the stringent measures that are being implemented to limit the amount of coal being transported through Brisbane in an effort to contain the air pollution caused by coal dust. The measures being implemented include providing covers for trains transporting coal and stockpiles of coal. At the state’s recently concluded ALP conference, Peter Cumming, councilor for Wynnum, put forward a motion with a view to address the community’s growing concern about coal dust pollution along the rail route from the coal mines in Darling to the Port that passes through Brisbane. Mr. Cumming is from a suburb near Brisbane Port where millions of tons of coal are transferred from trains to ships and exported annually. Annastacia Palaszczuk, Labor Leader, said that the issue has already been referred to the appropriate policy committee for deliberation when asked about her support for the motion.
Monitoring studies carried out recently by a union of the community groups revealed that the fine particles level in the air is much above the limit prescribed by the state, particularly near stockpiles. Jondaryan, a town close to Darling Downs, is by far the most contentious area because of a stockpile located just one kilometer away from the town. New Acland mine which sends supplies to this stockpile wants to further expand its operations despite LNP’s ruling against such a move prior to the elections in the state. On the other hand, the holding company of the mine New Hope has promised that they would relocate the stockpile if they are given permission for their stage three expansion.
When asked about coal shipments in general and the Jondaryan stockpile, Andrew Powell, Environment Minister, responded by saying that the community’s concerns have been addressed by the Newman government. A process of spraying a ’veneer’ on to the coal loads has been initiated to prevent coal dust from flying out. Preliminary air monitoring studies indicate that this measure is adequate in the short term. However, further studies are also being carried out, according to Mr. Powell.
Measures Taken by Port of Brisbane to Contain Air Pollution Caused by Coal Dust
The Brisbane Port handles different types of cargos, including motor vehicles, containers, both wet as well as dry bulk commodities, etc. The dust raised when handling bulk commodities, such as coal, adversely affects the quality of ambient air and the prevailing wind conditions often extend the air pollution problems to the neighboring areas. Some of the measures implemented by the Port to minimize pollution include the following:
• Maintenance and monitoring of moisture present in the bulk product that is being handled
• Storing of bulk material in enclosed spaces
• Handling or loading/unloading of bulk material in covered areas
• Implementing management practices in a proactive manner, including covering and wetting of stockpiles that are exposed
Further info: http://www.portbris.com.au/environment/air-quality
Further, the Brisbane Port has developed and implemented Environmental Management Plans to reduce dust emissions caused by such activities as construction, traffic movement on areas that are not sealed and land reclamation. As far as particulate matter let into the ambient air because of combustion of fuels used in trucks, trains and ships that come to the port is concerned, the Brisbane Port has instituted indirect management techniques that contribute to improving transport efficiencies. These include:
• Improving the condition of the roads and port’s access
• Effective management of shipping movements
• Encouraging multi-modal transportation alternatives
Air quality monitoring activities have been undertaken since 1999. The programs that have been implemented at the port to ensure ambient air quality include:
• Real-time dust monitoring at three locations within the port from June 2013.
• Long-term dust monitoring study from 2003 to 2011: The study showed that the dust deposition in the Port area is more or less within the prescribed limit.
• Fallout dust analysis for motor vehicle storage facilities (2001 to 2003 and also in 2007): The study found out that motor vehicles storage does not impact atmospheric deposition and that road dust contributed to 70% dust deposition on vehicles.
• Roadside monitoring study (2006 to 2008)
• Fine particulate emission monitoring study (2012). Follow up study to be conducted in 2013/2014.
Results of Real-time Dust Monitoring Program
Under this program, the presence of large as well as fine dust particles in air is monitored and calculated on a daily basis. The results of the studies conducted during the first three months show that the particulate matter present in air close to the place where coal is handled is significantly below the levels prescribed by the government. The Brisbane Port has also launched an air quality website, as part of its commitment to the local communities, to provide real time charts, information on air monitoring programs, etc.
Health Effects of Coal Dust
A number of health problems are caused by coal dust that contributes to air pollution during the process of mining, preparation, storage, transport and combustion of coal. Some of the negative health effects are as follows:
• A reduction in life expectancy
• Respiratory hospital admissions
• Black lung caused by coal dust
• Congestive heart failure
• Non-fatal cancer, renal dysfunction, osteroporosia, ataxia
• Asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis, etc.
• Damage to the nervous system
Carbon monoxide from explosives used in mines and that produced because of incomplete combustion of coal in power plants pollutes the air and poses health risks. Coal dust produced during mining, transportation and handling of coal causes severe as well as deadly respiratory problems. Coal sludge and acid mine run-off cause water pollution. Air pollution caused by coal dust, emissions from factories, vehicle exhausts, etc., can lead to incidences of lung diseases, cardiopulmonary diseases, high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney disease, asthma, etc. The top ten most polluted places in the world include Sumgayit, Azerbaijan; Linfen, China; Tianying, China; Sukinda, India; La Oroya, Peru; Dzerzinsk, Russia; Norilsk, Russia; Chernobyl, Ukraine and Kabwe, Zambia. Vapi, India which was there in this list has been removed because of the significant improvement in air quality in this place.
Environmental Effects of Coal Dust
Coal is responsible for a lot of damaging effects on the environment. Some of the aspects include:
Global warming: Power plants that use coal as fuel are mainly responsible for carbon dioxide emissions which contribute in a huge way to global warming. In complete combustion of coal produces black carbon which is also a contributor to climate change. When coal is mined, methane gas is released. It is estimated that 18 percent of the global warming effect is attributable to this activity. The contribution to the greenhouse effect from carbon dioxide generation is 50 percent.
Acid mine drainage: This refers to the flow of water that is acidic in nature from coal mines. This often happens because of exposure of rocks that contain pyrites, a sulfur-bearing mineral, during coal mining activities. Acid mine drainage greatly contributes to water pollution.
Air pollution: Emission of particulate matter as well as gasses such as methane, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide contribute a great deal to air pollution. Coal dust that is stirred up when mining and transporting coal also contributes to air pollution. Coal fires that occur in waste piles and abandoned mines release approximately 40 tons of mercury into the atmosphere annually.
In conclusion, mining, transporting, storage and combustion of coal do not only result in health issues and deterioration of quality of life, but also the degradation of the ecosystem.