Some activities at mines release small particles of dust into the air, also known as particulate matter (PM).
Breathing in PM can be harmful to your health. Health effects can occur after both short-term exposure (hours to days) and long-term exposure (many years).
If you are concerned about being exposed to PM from a mine or are experiencing health symptoms, speak to your doctor. You can also contact your local Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055.
The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) regulates the environmental and human health impacts of mines. If you think a mine is polluting the environment, see the NSW EPA factsheet How the EPA regulates mines for advice on what you can do.
Particulate matter, also known as particle pollution or PM is a term used to describe extremely small particles and liquid droplets in the air.
PM can be made up of acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, soil or dust particles or allergens (such as fragments of pollen or mould spores).
Sources of PM include natural processes (such as sea spray, pollen or bushfire smoke) and human activities such as car and truck exhausts, smoke from wood heaters and industrial emissions).
Exposure to PM can be harmful to health. The health effects depend on the size, structure and composition of the PM and the health of the person.
In particular, the size of PM determines how it affects the body:
Some of the components of PM are likely to be more harmful to health than others. However, the specific components that are most harmful to health are not yet well understood.
You may not be able to see PM in the air, but it can still be harmful to health.
Health effects can occur after both short-term exposure (hours to days) and long-term exposure (many years). Short-term exposure may worsen the symptoms of diseases you already have while long-term exposure may cause new diseases and increase how quickly chronic diseases progress.
Short-term exposure (hours to days) to PM10 and PM2.5 can lead to:
Long-term exposure (many years) to PM10 and PM2.5 can lead to:
Low levels of exposure to PM have been associated with health effects. Even small increases in the amount of PM breathed can potentially increase the risk of health effects. Air quality guidelines and standards are used to reduce exposure and health risks for the community.
Everyone can be affected by PM but some people are at higher risk including:
Mining is the process of extracting materials from the earth and may occur on the surface of the earth (open-pit mines or quarries) or underground.
All types of mines may generate different types of PM through a variety of activities. PM2.5 is generated by vehicle and mobile equipment exhausts. PM10 and particles larger than PM10 are generated by:
Yes, dust can land on house roofs and flow into water tanks during rain. To reduce the amount of dust being washed into tanks, NSW Health recommends using a first flush device to stop the first bit of rainwater from entering the tank. The NSW Health Rainwater tanks factsheet provides further advice on how to maintain water tanks for safe drinking.
For some people, dust from mines may affect the amenity or attractiveness of the local area. Concerns from the community often relate to visible dust plumes and dust sources from short-term episodes of high emissions, such as from blasting. Other amenity impacts include dust deposition on houses or clotheslines.
In New South Wales, the NSW Department of Planning and Environment regulates mines through the conditions of development consent which set out requirements for the operation of the mine. These conditions typically include limits on PM and requirements to monitor PM levels and notify affected residents if PM levels exceed the limits in the consent.
The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) regulates the environmental and human health impacts of mines through Environment Protection Licences. Environment Protection Licences can only be issued after a consent is granted and must be substantially consistent with the consent. Environment Protection Licences can set limit, operating, monitoring and reporting requirements.
Environment Protection Licences can require mine operators to implement procedures to minimise, monitor and report dust from their operations. Requirements can be tailored to each site based on the risks identified at the mine.
The NSW EPA regulates the environmental and human health impacts of mines. If you think a mine is polluting the environment, see the NSW EPA factsheet How the EPA regulates mines for advice on what you can do.
If you are concerned about being exposed to PM from a mine or are experiencing health symptoms, speak to your doctor. You can also call your local Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055.
There are also some steps you can take to reduce your exposure to air pollution more generally, including:
For more information, see the NSW Health website Air quality – Simple steps to protect yourself.