A petition has been launched calling on Premier Barry O’Farrell to instruct the coal industry to cover and wash coal wagons.
The Hunter Community Environment Centre says it is aiming to gain more than 10,000 signatures by the end of March in order to trigger a Parliamentary debate on the proposal.
“It’s time Premier O’Farrell and his Ministers took action to protect the health of the tens of thousands of people who live close to coal trains in the Hunter Valley, Newcastle and other parts of the state,” group spokesperson Fee Mozeley said.
HCEC is launching the petition in partnership with community groups in coal-affected regions throughout New South Wales including Newcastle, the Hunter Valley and Illawarra, Gloucester, Gunnedah, Lithgow and the Blue Mountains.
Air quality in the Hunter has been an issue for residents for some time now as coal mining and haulage activity increased in the region.
Current laws mean coal wagons do not need to be covered, with residents in some areas claiming dust and particle emissions are on the rise.
"Anybody who lives in Newcastle knows there is a blanketing of coal dust in many suburbs close to the coal loaders every day of the year, 365 days," Correct Planning and Consultation for Mayfield spokesperson John Hayes said.
A report last year by the Australian Rail Track Corporation found coal trains did not have stronger associations with elevated particulates, however the community group rejects these findings.
“Pollution monitoring studies have proven that coal trains are a major source of particle pollution and the 2013 Senate Inquiry recommended that state governments instruct the coal industry to cover wagons,” Mozeley said.
The group says covering coal wagons will be beneficial for both companies and the community.
“Covering coal wagons is a win-win,” said Hunter Communities Network spokesperson Bev Smiles.
“This cheap and simple measure will protect community health and save industry money for about one-thousandth the cost of the coal in each wagon.
“To be honest, we have no idea why the NSW mining industry hasn’t done it already.”