Healthy Environment, Healthy Community, Healthy Business

Environment Protection Authority

Good summer air quality for Newcastle and Upper Hunter

Media release: 30 May 2017

Summer air quality in the Newcastle and Upper Hunter areas was generally good, according to the latest air quality reports from the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) and the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH).

The reports from 1 December 2016 to 28 February 2017 show that levels of nitrogen dioxide, ammonia and PM2.5*, or fine particulate matter, were below national benchmarks. One sulfur dioxide spike was recorded in Muswellbrook in the Upper Hunter on 23 December.

Newcastle had 27 days during that period where daily average levels of PM10* particulate matter were above the benchmark, a figure comparable to those recorded during the two previous summers.

EPA Director Hunter Karen Marler said that onshore winds bring salt and other particles inland, raising PM10 levels in Newcastle.

The Upper Hunter recorded 12 days where the average levels of PM10 were above benchmark concentrations – the most days recorded above the benchmark compared to the previous four years. The next highest number of days were in summer 2013–14 (nine days) and summer 2012–13 (six days).

Ms Marler said the high particle levels in the Upper Hunter could be attributed to a particularly hot summer period and the influence of dry windy conditions on bush fires, controlled burning and dust generation.

“This summer we had periods with below average rainfall, above average temperatures, and high wind speeds. All these conditions tend to be associated with elevated PM10 levels, especially during bush fires and hazard reduction burning.

“The results confirm the significant influence that weather conditions have on our air quality – and also that we need to maintain our strong focus on managing dust by ensuring stabilisation of exposed mining areas. 

“While we saw good air quality over the summer and generally low hourly PM10 levels, we will continue efforts with industry and community to reduce these spikes in particulate matter,” she said.

On 23 December 2016 at Muswellbrook, the hourly sulfur dioxide concentration peaked at 21 parts per hundred million (pphm) for an hour, exceeding the 20 pphm national benchmark.

“The main source of sulfur dioxide emissions in the region is electricity generation. On that day, stable atmospheric conditions and a light south easterly breeze potentially limited dispersion of emissions from power stations and trapped them close to the ground,” said Ms Marler.

The summer air quality report results were presented to the EPA’s Upper Hunter Air Quality Advisory Committee and Newcastle Community Consultative Committee on the Environment in May. Both groups include local community, industry and councils, as well as NSW Health and the Department of Planning and Environment.

Chair for both the committees, John Tate, said the reports were extremely useful to the community to address areas of concern.

“We’re seeing better cooperation across the board in talking about local conditions and seeking solutions for community and industry alike.

“This cooperation is important, given we can expect more extreme weather conditions over summers to come,” he said.

The full summer air quality report resultsare available on the OEH website.


Upper Hunter:


* PM2.5: particles less than or equal to 2.5 micrometres in diameter

** PM10: particles less than or equal to 10 micrometres in diameter



Contact: EPA Public Affairs

Page last updated: 31 May 2017