EXCLUSIVE: Smoke and monitors as govt keeps eye on city

THE air around Gladstone is already the most closely monitored in the country, but the State Government is increasing its watch on the city.

A new, mobile air monitor has been brought in to capture more data on the impact of "new industry" on the city.

But it is not because the government has any particular health or environmental concerns.

Rather, since August, pressure from the community and green groups has been mounting for increased scrutiny of the current air monitors, some of which are 25 years old.

Green groups have repeatedly called the effectiveness of the air monitoring network into question and asked the state government to address a growing list of complaints.

July 16.
July 16. Campbell Gellie

There are already seven air monitoring stations in Gladstone, more than in Australia's biggest coal port city, Newcastle, where there are five, and more than in mining town Mount Isa, which has two.

The current air quality network, set up between 1991 and 2009, measures ambient air and tests for a range of chemicals.

The state government says data shows the flare emissions aren't impacting on Gladstone's overall air quality and that the height of the flare stacks means any smoke is "unlikely to impact air quality on the ground".

See where air pollution is monitored in Gladstone and its rating

But Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith, National Toxics Network senior advisor --- globally recognised for her research into environmental impacts of the gas industry --- says its "sheer folly" to suggest the black smoke doesn't contain harmful material.

"It may go up into the air, but the particulate matter will fall out again so of course it will come back closer to the air that everybody breathes," she said.

>>Meter monitoring flares not fully functional: report

>>LETTER: QGC says flare emissions well within guidelines

>>Govt stays tight lipped on flaring probe

>>Green group questions health impact of LNG flare smoke

During the next six months the new mobile air quality monitor will collect data from several places around Gladstone city, starting with Fisherman's landing at the port.

The unit will test for harmful chemicals known to cause respiratory and heart illnesses as well as other pollutants such as methane and sulphur dioxide.

The state government will use that data to decide whether to add another permanent monitoring station to the network.

Behind the scenes too, the state government has been negotiating with the LNG companies.

Queensland Gas Company, the only plant with two trains in operation, has made 13 changes to its environmental agreement with the government to increase its own monitoring, recording and reporting of flaring events.

It has invested $2 million to improve monitoring of flares at the plant and has offered to pay for a new monitoring station.

In October the state government issued QGC with a fine related to the black smoke produced from flaring.

However the $8538 fine --- the maximum fine for littering --- was not related to air quality, rather for the visual impact of the smoke on the community.

QGC says it will keep working to minimise black smoke.

Follow this reporter on Twitter @helenspelitis

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