Hunter Valley health a major issue

THE GREENS have backed calls for an independent authority to monitor pollution from Hunter Valley coal mines and power stations following the release of a global study into the impact of coal on health by the University of Sydney.
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Haul trucks are the major cause of PM10 dust emissions from coal mining activities.

Lou Caruana

The New South Wales Greens also want better mitigation strategies such as buffer zones around new mines, its environmental spokeswoman Cate Faehrmann said.

"When we consider the high number of coal projects in the Hunter, it's outrageous that proper health impact studies haven't already been completed,” she said.

“This kind of information should be available during the planning and approvals process for new mines."

The Sydney University report was commissioned by Beyond Zero Emissions to provide an overview on the health effects and social justice impacts of coal mining on local communities.

The Hunter has more than 30 mostly open-cut coal mines and six active coal-fired power stations.

Studies from the US, the United Kingdom, Canada, Turkey, Israel and Asia indicate serious health impacts for communities living near coal mines and coal-combusting power stations, according to lead author associate professor Ruth Colagiuri.

“This comprehensive review of Australian and international health and medical literature underlines the pressing need for Australia to re-evaluate whether the overall health and social costs of Australia’s reliance on a coal economy will ultimately outweigh its economic benefits,” she said.

“Communities in the Hunter report feelings of powerlessness and distress and have no formal avenue for input into the granting of mining licenses.

“The available international and local evidence about the health and social harms of living near coal mines or coal-fired power stations highlights the need for an urgent policy response to ensure transparency in arrangements between government and the mining industry and

community safeguards such as mandatory health impact assessments.

“We also urgently need well-designed local studies from Australia’s coal areas to generate evidence for the most informed decision possible about the future health of mining communities. The negative impacts we have identified have implications not only for this generation, but future ones,”

Faehrmann said the jump in particle emissions in the Hunter was in line with the jump in coal production. Dust mitigation efforts are not working, she said.

"What's clear is that a lot of the costs borne by local communities simply aren't being taken into account in the approvals process,” she said.

Among the problems identified in children and infants in coal communities were impaired growth and neurological development, high blood levels of heavy metals, higher prevalence of birth defects and a greater chance of being of low birth weight.

Adults have been shown to have higher rates of death from lung cancer and chronic heart, respiratory and kidney diseases. They also have increased chances of developing other cancers and hypertension. Some studies also show higher rates of miscarriages and stillbirths.

“Although there are differences in mining practises and standards across countries that may account for some of this excess death and illness, it is hard to imagine that at least some of this evidence would not apply to Australia,” Colagiuri said.

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