Coal dust management

Air quality has the potential to be impacted by the coal dust emissions from coal mining activities, the transportation of coal from mines to destinations, including loading facilities, ports and power stations. There has been community concern relating to the impacts of coal dust emissions on health and visual amenity. The Queensland Government regulates air quality under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (the EP Act) and its subordinate regulation and policies.

In response to public concern, the Queensland Government has undertaken investigations into coal dust emissions throughout the state and has worked with industry to implement specific dust mitigation activities such as load profiling and veneering. Load profiling involves the reshaping of the loaded coal surface to create a low-profile, garden-bed shape to reduce the production of dust emissions during transport and to establish the best possible coverage of coal during the veneering process. Veneering involves spraying a biodegradable, non-toxic binding agent onto the surface of the coal at the time of loading. The veneering solution binds to the surface layer of the coal together forming a flexible layer which reduces the potential for coal dust lift-off during transport.

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 primarily 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
  • Western Metropolitan Rail System—connecting to the Port of Brisbane.

View a map of the Central Queensland Coal Network.

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. Air quality in Queensland has improved significantly over the past three decades and remains relatively good despite the pressures from a growing population and an increase in commercial and industrial activities throughout the state.

At the national level, the National Environment Protection Measure for Ambient Air Quality (Air NEPM) establishes standards for a range of air pollutants, including particulate matter.

The Queensland Government’s Environmental Protection (Air) Policy 2019 (EPP (Air)) – Schedule 1 specifies air quality objectives for health and wellbeing related to dust (fine particulate matter of less than 10 microns (PM10) and 2.5 micron (PM2.5) 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 recommends a trigger level of 130mg/m2/day. The Queensland Government has adopted a lower trigger level of 120 mg/m2/day, which is recognised as an appropriate goal for deposited dust.

In assessing the acceptability of an activity, under the requirement of the EP Act, the Queensland Government must consider the regulatory requirements set out in the Environmental Protection Regulation 2008 and the Standard Criteria contained within the EP Act. It will give consideration to these regulatory requirements in the context of specific information about the identified environmental impacts of a particular activity provided through an application and its associated supporting documentation.

Ambient air quality objectives and guidelines, relevant to coal dust
Indicator Objectives/
Units Averaging periodSource
Particulates as TSP1 90 µg/m3 Annual EPP (Air)
Particulates as PM102  50 µg/m3 24 hours Air NEPM , EPP (Air)
Particulates as PM102 25 µg/m3 Annual Air NEPM, EPP (Air)
Particulates as PM2.53  25 µg/m3 24 hours Air NEPM, EPP (Air)
Particulates as PM2.53 8 µg/m3 Annual Air NEPM, EPP (Air)
(Dust deposition)
120 mg/m2/day Monthly Model Mining Conditions (ESR/20146/1936, version 6.01, effective 7 March 2017).

Table note

  1. TSP—total suspended particulates.
  2. PM10—particles less than 10 microns in diameter (1 micron = one-millionth of a metre).
  3. PM2.5—particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5 is a sub-category of PM10).