Government improves Upper Hunter air quality alerts following community complaints

Clearing the air: Camberwell residents Deidre Olofsson, left, with Christine Tuner and Sandra Tuner at the air quality monitor station. Picture: Marina Neil

Clearing the air: Camberwell residents Deidre Olofsson, left, with Christine Tuner and Sandra Tuner at the air quality monitor station. Picture: Marina Neil

THE NSW Government has changed the format of Upper Hunter air quality alerts following complaints the previous system was misleading. 

Residents have been receiving the new Upper Hunter Air Quality monitoring alerts for the past fortnight. The previous system, which had been operating since 2011, provided a generic warning for exceedances of individual air quality parameters.

The new system provides more detailed data and clarifies whether the exceedance is based on a 24-hour rolling average or real-time data. 

The change comes after the Herald highlighted last month  that the Upper Hunter Air Quality Monitoring network station at Camberwell had recorded 126 exceedances of national air quality standards for coarse particle pollution (PM10) between 2011 and 2017. 

Camberwell resident Deidre Olofosson received 248 email alerts for the same period, including 17 for this year, for real-time coarse particle pollution exceedances in the village.

An Office of Environment and Heritage spokeswoman said this week that the new email format included additional information on national air quality and NSW visibility standards.

“The new alert email also has a link to the NSW Health website with information on actions that can be taken to reduce the risk of exposure to air pollution,” she said. 

“This additional information has always been available on the Office of Environment and Heritage website but is now also included in the air quality email alert to make it easier for users to have a quick overview of relevant information.”

Ms Olofosson, who lodged a complaint with the department and environment minister about the alert system, said she was pleased the alerts had been updated, but questioned why it had taken so long. 

“It has only taken six years to make an improvement related to the alert,” Ms Olofosson said. 

The World Health Organisation lists particle pollution as a carcinogen. 

There is no threshold below which PM10 does not cause respiratory symptoms and diseases, and contribute to strokes and heart attacks.