Minimising particulate pollution from coal mines
There is growing community concern about the impacts on health and amenity associated with particulate matter (PM) emissions from coal mining in NSW.
The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has undertaken a range of initiatives and actions in relation to the management of particulate matter emissions from coal mines.
Inter-agency coal mine compliance audit
The EPA has maintained a strong regulatory focus on coal mines through a compliance audit program.
In late August 2010, the EPA commenced a joint compliance audit program on managing particulate matter emissions from coal mines in partnership with the then Department of Planning and Infrastructure and Department of Trade and Investment, Regional Infrastructure and Services.
The objective of the program was to assess the level of compliance with the requirements to manage fugitive particulate matter emissions contained in statutory instruments issued by each of the three agencies and to encourage improved environmental performance with reference to best management practice.
A total of nine coal mines were audited (seven in the Hunter Valley and one each in the Gunnedah and Western coal fields).
Download the audit report: Environmental compliance and performance report - Management of dust from coal mines (PDF 1.2 MB)
NSW coal mining benchmarking study: International best practice measures to prevent and/or minimise emissions of particulate matter from coal mining
Katestone Environmental was commissioned to review coal mining activities in the Greater Metropolitan Region (GMR) of NSW. The scope of the study was to:
- Identify the major sources of particulate matter emissions from coal mines (i.e. Total Suspended Particles (TSP), PM10 and PM2.5) and rank them in descending order of significance for offsite impacts.
- Identify current operational practices and emission controls for minimising particulate matter emissions from coal mining.
- Review international best practice measures to prevent and/or minimise particulate matter emissions from all activities associated with NSW coal mines, including land rehabilitation.
- Compare international best practice measures to prevent and/or minimise particulate matter emissions with those currently used at NSW coal mines.
- Recommend the adoption of international best practice measures that could be practicably implemented in NSW at existing and proposed coal mines.
- Estimate the likely reduction in particulate matter emissions associated with adopting each international best practice measure at NSW coal mines.
- Estimate the costs associated with adopting each international best practice measure at NSW coal mines.
The following information was used to establish current techniques for controlling the emissions of particulate matter from coal mines in the Greater Metropolitan Region:
- The 2009 industrial survey, where 100% of all premises surveyed provided responses.
- Katestone Environmental coal mine surveys in July/August 2010 and February/March 2011. Fifty nine premises provided responses, representing 93% and 91% of coal production and PM10 emissions in the Greater Metropolitan Region, respectively.
- Katestone Environmental coal mine site visits to 13 mines in 2010.
- Documents published by coal mines such as Annual Environment Management Reports (AEMR), Environmental Management Plans (EMP) and Environmental Management Systems (EMS).
- While every effort was made to accurately describe existing practices to minimise particulate matter emissions using information provided by individual coal mines through various surveys, site visits and publicly available documents, some of the industry information provided may contain inaccuracies.
Download the report: NSW Coal Mining Benchmarking Study: International Best Practice Measures to Prevent and/or Minimise Emissions of Particulate Matter from Coal Mining (PDF 4.5 MB) and appendices (PDF 2.3 MB)
One of the key recommendations of the Katestone report is that each mine should carry out a site-specific determination of best management practice to reduce particulate emissions from the mine site.
The Dust Stop program aims to ensure that each coal mine implements the most reasonable and feasible particulate control options. The Dust Stop program is being implemented through a series of pollution-reduction programs attached to each coal mine licence. A pollution reduction program is a legally binding instrument that is attached to the environment protection licence issued by the EPA to a particular licensee – in this case, coal mines. Copies of each coal mine licence are available on the EPA's public register. The pollution-reduction program refers to a guideline that specifies the details that are required in each report.
Download the report: Coal Mine Particulate Matter Control: Best Practice Site-specific determination guideline (PDF 80 KB)
Under this program, pollution reduction programs were issued to all NSW coal mines throughout 2011 and 2012. The pollution reduction programs required all coal mines in NSW to prepare a report comparing their current operation with international best practice. Mines were also required to report on the practicability of implementing each best practice measure. For any measures found to be practicable, each mine is required to provide a timetable for implementation.
Copies of each report are now available on the mines' websites.
The reports showed that a variety of best practice measures were already being used by mines to reduce dust; however, there was more work that could be done. Increasing haul road watering, applying gravel to exposed areas and temporary revegetation of soil and rock waste piles were some of the measures outlined by mines that could be implemented. The reports support the findings in the Katestone benchmarking report that dust generated from machine traffic within the mines is the biggest source of fine dust particles on most mine sites.
These main sources of dust became the focus of four additional pollution reduction programs issued to all NSW open cut mines in 2013. This set of pollution reduction programs required the implementation and investigation of a number of best practice measures to reduce particulate emissions.
Pollution Reduction Program 1 required all open cut mines to achieve 80% control of wheel generated dust; and to monitor and report on their results by August 2014. This level of control is generally achieved by watering haul roads and by applying chemical dust suppressants.
The successful completion of this pollution reduction program in 2014 resulted in all open cut mines achieving a dust control efficiency of 80% or more. This resulted in an estimated reduction of about 20,000 tonnes of particulate matter per annum. The claimed improvements are being verified by visual observation from helicopter and ground under the EPA's Dust Buster campaign. All mines have also been encouraged to carry out periodic quantitative assessment of dust control efficiency as part of their individual air quality management programs.
Pollution Reduction Program 2 required all open cut coal mines to alter and/or cease their handling of soil and rock waste during adverse weather conditions and to monitor the outcomes of this action. The EPA has undertaken a review of these reports and is currently working with the open cut coal mine industry to achieve a greater consistency between each site. The EPA has advised industry that it expects them to implement management practices based on both predicted and prevailing weather conditions and dust levels, using both visual and quantitative assessment to ensure that elevated dust levels are not experienced during periods of adverse weather.
Pollution Reduction Program 3 required a trial of best practice measures for disturbing and handling soil and rock waste. The trial was undertaken collectively as an industry and estimated that particulate matter reductions of 40 to 70% could be achieved through the use of water during loading and dumping activities. This best practice is limited by water availability and safety implications. It was also observed that the minimisation of drop heights during loading and dumping activities significantly reduces the dust plume.
The EPA has advised industry that minimising overburden drop heights is now considered best practice and that licence conditions will be used to enforce the application of this best practice measure. The EPA continues to work with industry to ensure that best management practice and technology is implemented at each site where it is practical and safe to do so, particularly during periods of adverse weather.
In 2014 the EPA issued a new pollution reduction program to NSW open cut mines requiring them to assess their wind-erosion exposed areas against pre-determined benchmarks. This is a major initiative by the EPA into an area traditionally managed by other agencies, made necessary by an ever-expanding area of exposed soil and rock, particularly in the Hunter Valley. This approach has the potential to result in a measurable and enforceable reduction in the area exposed to wind erosion, because it sets each mine a target based on existing approvals.
The EPA is also considering other measures to further reduce dust emissions from open cut mine sites and will be discussing these with industry.
Upper Hunter Valley open cut coal mine Interim Dust Assessment Handbook
The EPA, in consultation with the mining industry and Department of Planning and Environment, has developed an Interim Dust Assessment Handbook to assist mine operators in the Hunter Valley and to improve air quality for communities.
The Interim Handbook is designed for use by:
The handbook is a visual tool, containing a series of photographs that identify when to consider operational changes to minimise or reduce dust. It also assists in identifying whether mining activities are being conducted in a proper and efficient manner. In addition, the Handbook lists a series of factors to consider in assessing whether operational changes are required.
The Interim Handbook applies to vehicles on haul roads and to drilling rigs. It may be updated to cover other mining activities in the future.
The Interim Handbook is a 'glove-box' sized document made of durable materials to withstand day to day use in the mining environment.
Copies of this publication can be purchased from the NSW Government Online Bookshop at www.shop.nsw.gov.au or by calling the EPA's Environment Line on 131 555.
Upper Hunter air quality monitoring network
In response to community concerns about the cumulative health effects of particle emissions from coal mining and power generation on regional communities in the Upper Hunter, the NSW Government committed to providing a reliable ambient regional air quality monitoring network in this region.
The new network was launched by the Minister for the Environment on 9 December 2010.
EPA air quality data is available from the network in real-time.
Review of Upper Hunter air quality monitoring data
A review of Upper Hunter air quality monitoring data collected at industry operated sites for the period 2005-09 has been prepared. This data has been compiled in order to assist the NSW Health review of health impacts associated with air pollution in the Upper Hunter and respond to community concerns.
Download the report: Compendium of Upper Hunter ambient air quality monitoring data (PDF 2.3 MB)
Page last updated: 18 June 2015