Healthy Environment, Healthy Community, Healthy Business

Environment Protection Authority

EPA to release findings of Lower Hunter Air Quality Studies

Media release: 27 April 2016

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has released the findings of two major studies looking at air pollution in the Lower Hunter.

The Particle Characterisation Study and the Dust Deposition Study were carried out in 2014 and 2015 and were designed to provide clear, scientific information to the local community about air quality.

Taken together the two studies show that levels of air particles and dust in the region overall are good by world standards, but that occasionally particle levels will spike as a result of industrial activities or seasonal weather patterns.

EPA Chief Executive Barry Buffier said the studies were a great outcome for the community. 

“The EPA has been working closely with the Newcastle Consultative Committee over the years to gather solid and scientific evidence about air quality in the Lower Hunter   Mr Buffier said.

“These results will be invaluable in helping to target our resources as well as ensure we develop specific air quality programs that address the key areas of concern”.

The Particle Characterisation Study was a three-year study managed through a partnership between the EPA, the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) and NSW Health. 

OEH, CSIRO and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) jointly carried out the study.

The study sampled fine particles at four key sites: Newcastle, Beresfield, Mayfield and Stockton and coarse particles at Mayfield and Stockton over a 12 month period.

Findings from the Lower Hunter Particle Characterisation Study show:

  • Sea salt was found to be the largest contributor of both fine and coarse inhalable particles particularly at sites closest to the coast.
  • All sites had similar levels of particles across the year except Stockton which had higher levels of fine and coarse particles.
  • Air quality in the Lower Hunter is good by world standards but particle pollution can exceed national air standards at times at Stockton.
  • Other sources of fine particles included sulfates and nitrates from fossil fuel burning industries, wood smoke, soil and vehicles.
  • Seasonal trends, with winter seeing higher levels of wood smoke across the region and higher ammonium nitrate at Stockton, while warmer months bring higher levels of sea salt and less wood smoke.
  • Coarse particles were found to be highest at Stockton due to the fresh sea salt and further investigation is being undertaken to clarify the contribution of coal, which appears to contribute up to 10 per cent of inhalable coarse particles.

The EPA’s Dust Deposition Study was a community-led project, initiated in response to concern about visible dust in the Lower Hunter.

Carried out last year, the study was designed to complement the Particle Characterisation Study. However instead of sampling the fine PM2.5 particles, the dust deposition study focused on identifying the major sources and composition of the larger particles, visible to the human eye.

The EPA established a reference group of local community, industry and technical representatives to oversee the project.

Sample sites were selected based on where air pollution complaints had been received including; Waratah, Islington, Tighes Hill and Hamilton.

Sampling was completed over a 12 month period by AECOM, and found that deposited dust measured at 12 sites was below EPA criteria levels of 4 grams per square metre per month

Analysis of 72 dust samples found that soil or rock was the primary component, averaging 69 per cent of all samples. Other components were, on average, coal 10 per cent, rubber 4 per cent and soot 3 per cent. The remainder included insect and plant debris, salt and ash.

More information about the two studies is available on the EPA website:

Contact: EPA Public Affairs

Page last updated: 27 April 2016