Coal mining is the primary source of air pollution in Australia and has doubled the pollution levels in the last ten years, according to the federal government’s national pollutant inventory (NPI) report.
The report found that coal mining emitted around 380,000t of the total 830,000t of tiny dust particles, known as PM10, nationally between 2012 and 2013. Coal mining is also known to emit smaller particles, known as PM2.5, into the air.
Among different states, Queensland was found to be the most polluted in terms of the particulate matter levels as it has eight of the top ten particles emitted from coal mines.
Community group Clean Air Queensland spokesperson Michael Kane was quoted by Global Post as saying that the report should sound an urgent warning bell on the need for greater controls on air pollution.
"Particle pollution contributes to a range of cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses yet we have no national uniform legislation to protect the very air we breathe," Kane said.
"Even getting coal trains covered to reduce particle pollution has proved too difficult for our legislators and the dust from stockpiles of uncovered coal waiting for export blows freely over populated areas."
Queensland is followed by the Hunter region in New South Wales, which contributed 53,000t of PM10 between 2012 and 2013 in the Singleton area, of which 96% came from coal mining.
The report also found that other toxic materials in the air such as lead, arsenic and fluoride have also increased by 150% to 200% in the last decade.
Meanwhile, environmental authorities have issued huge fines to mining companies and other industries for violating environmental rules, and have called for new environment protection licences that will be implemented from July 2015.
New South Wales environment minister Rob Stokes was quoted by The Herald as saying that the changes will give the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) access to the highest penalties for any environmental regulator in Australia and increased powers to bring polluters to justice.
"The changes will shift the balance of power back in favour of the regulator rather than the polluter, allowing the EPA to operate more effectively, while better reflecting community expectations around environmental crimes," Stokes said.
According to EPA acting chief regulator David Fowler, the inventory reported on industry emissions at their source. In the case of coal mining, it was within the boundaries of the mine.
"This is not a measure of the air quality experienced by the population, particularly where population centres are some distance from the mine," Fowler said.