Greens push for new air quality controls for coal dust

TIGHTER standards on air quality could be in the winds after Senate Inquiry hearings in Brisbane on the impact of coal dust in communities.

Although the committee is yet to agree on its findings, Greens Senator Richard Di Natale said he would push for tougher regulation and better monitoring of coal dust.

"We have a real problem with the standards set around air pollution, the monitoring of those standards and how we enforce them," he said.

"We need much stronger enforcement."

The Federal Greens called for the inquiry to consider whether air quality in parts of Australia could be causing damage to peoples' health.

At a public hearing in Brisbane on Tuesday, the inquiry - chaired by Greens Senator Rachel Siewert - quizzed scientists, the Queensland Resources Council and environmental activist groups, along with North Queensland Bulk Ports, owners of Central Queensland's largest coal ports.

Despite the inquiry being both created and led by the Greens, Senator Richard Di Natale said he went into proceedings with an open mind.

He said after three public meetings and a stack of submissions, it was clear that health was coming second to the need to move coal.

In particular, he said Dalrymple Bay and Hay Point terminals near Mackay had to do more.

"We are seeing people exposed to potentially harmful levels of coal dust," Senator Di Natale said.

"We don't have adequate monitoring and we don't have appropriate standards.

"It seems state governments across the country are facilitating that and being derelict in protecting public health."

North Queensland Bulk Ports deputy chief executive Jeff Stewart-Harris said there were five dust measuring stations monitored 24 hours a day to ensure healthy levels were ensured.

"The monitoring program is overseen by air quality experts," he said.

"There is science to the placement and establishment of these facilities.

"We take this very seriously."

Senator Di Natale said if the ports met all the standards, it showed standards needed to be stronger.