NSW government departments confirm residents’ air quality concerns

(Ed: This contribution is by retired TAFE NSW researcher and University of Sydney academic Kerry Barlow)

From the perspective of an ordinary local resident, the NSW government’s whole M4 East EIS process has lacked transparency and integrity. A project currently costed at $16b should have its planning and EIS process conducted in a timely and measured way. This has not been the case with this EIS. The local “information sessions” were staged in an individualistic way that meant locals couldn’t ask critical questions to a panel and listen to all responses. Residents, childcare, schools and business owners were only given 45 days to make submissions to an EIS that was a highly technical series of documents with a word count of 5,000 pages.

The WDA received about 4500 submissions, and has treated those by residents and community groups with contempt by scanning them into numerous PDFs and posting them with just a list of submitters on a top page. As part of the EIS process the WDA is supposed to report back on how it is going to deal with the substantive issues raised in the submissions. The way they have posted the submissions makes to very difficult to find the issues raised by particular groups for our follow-up in the EIS report. Processes with transparency and integrity treat all citizens respectfully – none of us feel it has happened in this case.

Despite concerns, Government Departments make only minimal comments

To add insult to injury, the three key NSW organisations expected to make submissions as part of their important role in a democratic society, ie NSW Health, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Chief Scientist and Engineer have all put in fairly minimal comments on this EIS. This is disappointing, given the huge cost of the project, and the fact that their own budgets will no doubt suffer over time if the NSW government has to subsidise further project cost blow-outs.

The NSW Health submission made no attempt to analyse the methodology of the Human Health Risk Assessment component of the EIS. If they had done so, they would have made comment on several flaws, including:

  • the mortality data used in the EIS for three key factors (COPD, lung cancer, cardiovascular disease) shows that Sydney Area Health Service has rates higher than the average NSW rate for all three indicators, yet the risk assessment does not question whether exposure to already elevated levels of NO2 and PM2.5 may be a cause of these elevated rates

  • the reliance on data that is five (5) years old for the key health indicators is problematic, given background sources of key pollutants (NO2 and PM2.5 and PM10) have increased in that five (5) year period, as evidenced by vehicle fleet data. According to the Sydney Morning Herald (March 15-16 2014) the number of diesel vehicles on the road in Australia has more than doubled since 2005. ABS data shows that in 2015 there are 3.6 million diesel powered vehicles, accounting for 19.7% of the fleet; and over the five year period from 2010, the number of Passenger vehicles and Light Commercial vehicles registered with diesel fuel increased by 96.4% and 62.9% respectively (ABS, Motor Vehicle Census, Australia, cat no 9309.0). This increase in diesel fuel use would have had both short term and longer term impacts on health in the period since this health data was published and has not been captured by it, nor has this health risk assessment mentioned increased risks from the growing diesel fleet.

  • the current Sydney Area Health Service collects data on health risk factors, published for each Local Health District. The risk factor model is one that can be called a “personal behaviour” model (ie includes risky alcohol drinking, smoking, consumption of fruit & vegetables, being overweight or obese, and adequate physical activity) which does not include external risk factors, like living within a few hundred metres of a busy road. The fact that the Area Health Services in NSW do not collect data for external risk factors, although they are known (eg exposure to coal dust (mainly PM10) and road pollution (notably NO2 and PM2.5) means that more meaningful data is not available to these types of Human Health Risk Assessments. NSW Health is negligent in not acknowledging the known risks of exposure to these dangerous emissions and should be collecting data related to them via methods that collect cancer and other registry information based on people’s home and workplace location.

NSW EPA lacks technical expertise to assess data

The EPA’s admission in their submission that they do not have in-house expertise to assess the air dispersion model (the Graz Mesoscale Model/Graz Lagrangian model) because they do not have the relevant technical expertise to provide a meaningful review is of huge concern. This is the main agency this state relies on for reviews of major projects like WestConnex, yet it is forced to admit to lack of expertise.

Although minimal, their submission did pick up several issues of concern in the EIS, which included:

  • the air dispersion modelling is not satisfactory, due to insufficient justification and validation for the selection of Canterbury Racecourse meteorological data; recommends provision of justification for choice of meteorological data and revision of GRAMM modelling to more accurately simulate the meteorology of the sites
  • noted issues with the methodology of calculating the 1-hour average conversion of NOx to NO2; noting two different methods used for the community receptors and residence/workplace receptors based on an empirical method (that may underestimate actual conversions of NOx to NO2) rather than a method listed in the NSW approved methods; recommended further analysis and justification is required

  • results for the regulatory worst case scenario for NO2 and air toxics was not presented the predicted “hot spots” on contour map don’t appear to match traffic volumes

  • noted the model used to estimate in-tunnel emissions (the PIARC model) assumes light diesel vehicles will only be 50% of the fleet by 2031, when realistically they would be more likely be 80% – thus under-estimating PM2.5 (and finer) and NO2 emissions in-tunnel; recommends more realistic fuel-mix types are required for the 2031 estimates

  • notes the heavy vehicle exhaust PM factors used in the in-tunnel emissions are estimated 80% below the PIARC data; recommended the reason for the variation be provided and justified

The Chief Scientist and Engineer provided a very minimal submission which only picked up a few issues of concern. They appear to have accepted the Air Quality Impact Statement claim that there would be no emissions at the portals, without testing whether the congestion points near portals might prove to be new sources of pollution.

This submission found:

  • the construction (as opposed to operational) impacts assessment has been treated in a summary and cursory manner, with no attempt to quantify emissions of critical air pollution, eg NOx/NO2, PM10, PM2.5 during construction; recommends stronger emphasis on mitigation to reduce the high risks of increased exposure to PM10 and annoyance from dust from the construction phases
  • some issues with the use of the GRAL model, which it says the EIS does not evaluate sufficiently. It states the GRAL model appears to underestimate some emission readings and over-estimate others, depending on the time of day; recommends the proponents comment on and confirm (or refute) the Chief Scientist’s claim that GRAL is slightly under-estimating vehicle emissions in congested traffic conditions and the implications for the health risk assessment

All the concerns raised by these submissions do need to be taken seriously so that residents’ health is not further compromised by the increased volume of traffic (which, by definition, will add to the total background volumes of emissions) and by the increase in the number of “hot spots”.


Haberfield & Dobroyd Point School P & Cs say M4 East threatens safety of children

The Inner West Courier reported today:

“The parents at Haberfield Public School fear our children will be at the centre of a toxic triangle of pollution stack and portals after three or more years of construction just metres away from the school,” Haberfield Public School P & C vice president Sherrill Nixon said.

Ms Nixon said the streets around Haberfield Public School will see three years of noise and heavy truck movements during construction, only to end up with polluting exhaust stacks less than 500m away.

“The impact on our school community is devastating,” she said. “We insist our kids’ learning and wellbeing comes first.”

During construction, the parents fear that safety of children hasn’t been considered, with extra construction vehicles to be in the area around Reg Coadie Reserve.”

Dobroyd Pt Public school Parents and Citizens Association is also concerned about danger to the health and safety of children. (Ed: The M4 East EIS Social Impact study omitted to include impacts on the Dobroyd Point Public School. )

Labor MP for Summer Hill Jo Haylen is also quoted in the Inner West Courier report:

“The parents are not alone in having doubts about the WestConnex project, with Summer Hill Labor member Jo Haylen also expressing her doubts.

“WestConnex fails when it comes to traffic congestion, air quality, heritage preservation and unfair acquisitions,” Ms Haylen said.

“Our kids will look back and shake their heads that WestConnex was ever built, but in the short-term, they’ll have to deal with the immediate construction chaos.”

Read the full story.

Jozefa Sobski : A local view of Westconnex M4 East from Ramsay Street, Haberfield

(Ed:This submission by Jozefa Sobski is one of thousands submitted to EIS. If you didn’t know it was there, it would be hard to find it because the Department has failed to follow its own rules and publish a list of submitters with their suburbs.)

When my partner and I purchased our home in 148 Ramsay Street Haberfield, we were aware that it was on a major arterial road near a major intersection, Wattle Street. It was 1989. The future proposals at that time were for a City West Link Road – a four lane link between the City and the F4 Freeway Interchange at Concord.

The documents at that time indicate on p9 that “not a single residential property is required.” Of course much has changed since then, including the volume of traffic on our local roads and the development of the City West Link Road. The growth in privatisation of schools has led to increased volumes of traffic as has urban consolidation and its attendant construction of major residential apartment developments.

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Dr Michelle Zeibots explains why so many Fs for Level of Service in EIS is a very bad sign

Dr Michelle Zeibots is a transport planner, specialising in the analysis of sustainable urban passenger transport systems. Michelle works at UTS at both the Institute for Sustainable Futures and in the Faculty of Engineering & Information Technology. She lectures and researches in the field of transportation engineering.

Yesterday, she published a post on her blog Letters of Transit which explains a term that regularly appears in the Westconnex EIS and business case – levels of service

The Level Of Service (LOS) framework is used to measure the performance of both roads and public transport services using a scale that moves from A to B, C, D, E and F. A is at the end of the scale that is meant to be good, while F is at the end that’s bad and meant to indicate system failure.

She concludes:

In the case of the M4 sections of WestConnex, they basically show that there is no or little improvement in congestion for many sections, and for any transport professional this sets off serious alarm bells.

Read her blog and you will see how many Fs will still be in the zone of the M4 East. Take for instance, Great North Road/Ramsay Street intersection or Parramatta Road/Hume Highway, they’ll both be F in 2031 with Westconnex.

This sounds really bad. Surely we are not going to spend $17 billion to have different cars sitting in the same traffic jams they are sitting in now. We must look more seriously at how public transport and traffic management can be used to get cars off the road.

Traffic Jam

Summary of reasons why Marrickville Council completely opposes Westconnex M4 East

In September 2015 Marrickville Council reaffirmed its “absolute opposition to the WestConnex project”. Its EIS submission to the M4 East is a powerful rejection of the project. Its staff and independent experts evaluated the EIS and concluded:

  • That the EIS does not justify that the significant expenditure on Westconnex would benefit the broader community including public transport users, pedestrians, cyclists and communities generally. The benefits for toll paying motorists indicated in the EIS are also dubious.
  • There has been no real analysis of alternatives to the M4 East and alternatives that are considered are assessed in isolation of integrated solutions.
  • The EIS assumes that all sections of WestConnex (with the possible exception of the Western Harbour Tunnel) are completed by 2031. If all sections are not completed simultaneously the traffic flowing from the M4 East will have adverse impacts on the inner
    west and central Sydney.
  • To properly evaluate the WestConnex project there needs to be an over-arching EIS for the entire project, i.e. Stages 1, 2, 3, the Southern Gateway and The Sydney Gateway; possibly also the Northern and Southern extensions.

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Department of Planning publishes M4EIS submissions –

Today, the NSW Department of Planning and Environment published the submissions for the WestCONnex M4 East.

Normally the Department publishes the name of the person who has sent in the submission with an accompanying PDF. Here’s an example from the Northconnex.

If you took a quick look at the Planning Department’s M4 East page, you could mistakenly think there were only 60 public submissions. In fact there are 4877 public submissions dumped into 60 unlabelled PDFS. The vast majority of submissions ‘object’ to to the project. Even those who only ‘comment’ rather than ‘object’ are mostly very critical of the M4 East proposal.

Unless a member of the public trawls through all submissions, he or she won’t easily find their own submission or submissions from the National Trust, the Westconnex Action Group, the No Westconnex Public Transport group and other detailed submissions from groups and experts. If the department is not equipped to deal with thousands of submission, why can’t it slow down the planning process? It is quite unfair for the documentation of public feedback for one planning application to be treated less transparently that others.

The Department’s approach to the publication of public submissions demonstrates their arrogance towards the community and how the planning process is biased and corrupted in favour of the proponent – RMS and Sydney Motorway Corporation.  It’s the same overall undemocratic approach which leads the government to grant construction contracts before the project is approved or a business case is made public.

The Department has claimed in writing that it will rigorously assess all submissions. Do they wonder why the community is cynical about their claims?

The People’s EIS will be going through the submissions and publishing some of them.

In future updates, we’ll report on the 17 Submissions from Agencies and Government Departments. There are hundreds of criticisms of the project in these submissions.

Update: The People’s EIS has complained about the way in which the public submissions have been published on the Department of Planning website. Senior Planner Brent Devine who is managing the process said it was because it had to be done as quickly as possible which simply confirms that the planning process is being rushed to suit the WestCONnex. He is going to look into whether an index with names and suburbs of submitters can be published. We expect to hear back in a day or two.