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Factsheets · Healthy Communities

Air Quality - fine particulates from mining

10 September, 2015

Recently concerns have been raised about the health implications of fine particulates (PM10 and PM2.5) by health professionals such as Doctors for the Environment.

Current as at September 2015. The information provided below is for information only. It must not be relied on as legal advice. You should seek legal advice about your own particular circumstances

The World Health Organisation has published air quality guidelines in 2005 which include the following guidelines:

  • PM10 – 50 micrograms/m3 24 hour mean:
  • PM10 – 20 micrograms/m3 1 year mean;
  • PM2.5 – 25 micrograms/m3 24 hour mean; and
  • PM2.5 – 10 micrograms/m3 1 year mean.

In Queensland fine particulates are primarily regulated through the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) (EP Act).

For decisions involving resource activities, such as coal mining, the decision maker must consider the ‘standard criteria’.[1] The Dictionary in Schedule 4 of the EP Act defines ‘standard criteria’ to include “any Commonwealth or State government plans, standards, agreements or requirements about environmental protection or ecologically sustainable development” which would include the Environmental Protection Policy (Air) 2008 (Qld) EPP (Air).

The purpose of the EPP(Air) is to achieve the object of the EP Act (i.e. ecologically sustainable development) in respect of the air environment.  This is to be achieved by identifying environmental values and Air Quality Objectives (AQOs) for enhancing and protecting those values (per section 6).  The EPP (Air) identifies values including “the qualities of the air environment that are conducive to human health and wellbeing” (per section 7) and sets (by section 8 and Schedule 1) the following AQOs for that human health and wellbeing:

  • PM10 – 50 micrograms/m3 averaged over 24 hours, maximum exceedance 5 days each year:
  • PM2.5 – 25 micrograms/m3 averaged over 24 hours; and
  • PM2.5 – 8 micrograms/m3 averaged over 1 year.

It is intended that the air quality objectives be progressively achieved as part of achieving the purpose of this policy over the long term (section 8(4) EPP (Air))

National Environmental Protection Measures (NEPMs)

Nationally the National Environmental Protection Council Act 1994 (Cth) allows the creation of National Environmental Protection Measures (NEPMs). The National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure (NEPM(Air)) obliges each state to assess its effectiveness in meeting ambient air quality objectives which are the same as above regarding PM10 and PM2.5 (although PM2.5 is only advisory at this stage).  These standards are being reviewed with a decision due in December 2015.

The NEPM standards do not directly legally bind development or mining applications in Queensland but can be persuasive if they are different from the AQO in the EPP(Air). For example, in the case of Mansell & Neil Mansell Concrete P/L v. Marrochy Shire Council & Ors [2007] QPEC 086 the experts agreed to the appropriate standard was the the NEPM(Air) standard of 50 micrograms per cubic metre which, at that time, was lower than then EPP(Air) 1997 standard for PM10 of 150 micrograms per cubic metre (see paragraphs [78] – [80]).

Coordinated projects

If the mining project is a coordinated project under the State Development Public Works Organisation Act 1971(Qld) then the decision maker under the EP Act cannot impose a condition which is inconsistent with the Coordinator General condition (see for example s190(2)(b) and s205(3) of the EP Act).  For a consideration of the dust impacts of mining, see for example paragaraph [311] to [377] in the case Xstrata Coal Queensland Pty Ltd & Ors v. Friends of the Earth – Brisbane Co-Op Ltd & Ors, and Department of Environment and Resource Management [2012] QLC 013.

Mines may also be approved on conditions which allow particulate emissions greater than the current AQOs. If you are concerned about the dust emissions from an existing operation you ask the operator or Department of Environment and Heritage Protection for a copy of the Environmental Authority for the mine to see what conditions they must operate under.

If you are concerned about the dust impacts on a proposed or operating mine on the environmental health of your community you can contact EDO Qld’s advice line for free legal advice (subject to our casework guidelines).

Further resources you may find of assistance are:

[1] Pursuant to s175(2)(iii) for standard applications, s176(2)(iv) for site specific applications and s191(g) for Land Court objections

Environmental Defenders Office Queensland (EDO Qld) gives a strong legal voice to the environment when needed most.

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