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Coal dust management

The Queensland Government has received a number of complaints about coal dust associated with rail transport along the Western–Metropolitan rail system. The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP) regulates air quality under the Environmental Protection Act 1994.

EHP commenced investigations into the community complaints through a preliminary monitoring program at Tennyson. Early investigations indicate that the ambient particulate concentration around the coal rail line complies with ambient air quality objectives. Recognising that this is an ongoing community issue, the Queensland Government established an Interagency Coal Dust and Rail Noise Policy Working Group.

The working group has compiled the following information on coal dust associated with rail transport operations.

Coal production and coal transport in Queensland

The largest and most active areas of existing and proposed coal production in Queensland are:

  • Bowen Basin coal measure in Central Queensland
  • Surat Basin coal measure in south-central Queensland
  • Galilee Basin coal measure in central-west Queensland
  • Clarence–Moreton Basin coal measure in South East Queensland.

Coal transport and export

Community exposure to coal dust emissions mainly occurs during the rail transport of coal to export ports and from dust emissions from coal terminal operations.

Export coal is currently transported to one of six active coal terminals via rail systems.

The current five rail systems comprise:

  • Newlands Rail System – connecting to the Port of Abbot Point (north of Bowen)
  • Goonyella Rail System – connecting to the Port of Hay Point south of Mackay (two active terminals)
  • Blackwater Rail System – connecting to the Port of Gladstone (two active terminals)
  • Moura Rail System – connecting to the Port of Gladstone; and
  • West Moreton Rail System – connecting to the Port of Brisbane.

Air quality and dust management

Local air quality can be impacted by emissions from a range of human activities, including transport, industry, rural and domestic activities, and are subject to management activities. Natural processes and events—such as bush fires, dust storms, temperature and rainfall—can also affect regional air quality but are not subject to management.

Air quality management relating to dust and particles occurs through a combination of local, state and national measures.

At the national level, the National Environment Protection Measure for Ambient Air Quality establishes goals for a range of emissions, including particles.

The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection’s Environmental Protection (Air) Policy 2008 (EPP (Air)) – Schedule 1 specifies air quality objectives for health and wellbeing related to dust (PM10 fine particles of less than 10 microns in diameter) and for long-term nuisance total suspended particulates (TSP).

Although the EPP (Air) does not specify an objective for deposited matter, the New Zealand Ministry for the Environment recommended a trigger level of 130mg/m2/day, which is recognised as an appropriate goal for deposited dust.

In assessing the acceptability of an activity, EHP will consider the best practice environmental management of the activity. The EP Act defines best practice environmental management of an activity as: the management of activity to achieve ongoing minimisation of the activities environmental harm through cost-effective measures assessed against the measures currently used nationally and internationally for the activity.

Ambient air quality objectives and guidelines, relevant to coal dust
Indicator Objectives/
Units Averaging period Exceedance limit Source
Particulates as TSP1 90 µg/m3  Annual   EPP(Air)
Particulates as PM102  50 µg/m3  24 hours Five days per year NEPM (Air), EPP(Air)
Particulates as PM2.53  25 µg/m3  24 hours   NEPM (Air), EPP(Air)
Dustfall 133 mg/m2/day     NZ Ministry for Environment

Table note

  • TSP—total suspended particulates.
  • PM10—particles not more than 10 microns in diameter (1 micron = one-millionth of a metre).
  • PM2.5—particles not more than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5s are a sub-category of PM10s).
Last updated
20 August 2013