THE human health cost of air pollution from coalmining in Australia was estimated to be $2.6billion a year, a doctor has told a meeting of local council representatives in Singleton.
A spokeswoman for the voluntary group, Doctors for the Environment, Helen Redmond, said pollution was contributing to various diseases and death associated with numerous cancers, cardiovascular, lung and kidney problems, birth defects and learning difficulties.
Fine dust particles, known as PM 2.5s, were the most harmful as they could pass through lung tissue into people’s blood streams and mercury was the most concerning heavy metal released from coal as it accumulated in increasing concentrations up the food chain, she said.
The $2.6billion health cost rose to an estimated $8.3billion a year when greenhouse gas impacts were taken into consideration, Dr Redmond said.
She made these comments when addressing the quarterly meeting of the Association of Mining Related Councils in Singleton Council chambers on Friday.
The association includes representatives from 20 New South Wales local government areas, with the Singleton shire being represented by councillors John Martin and Val Scott.
Dr Redmond, and another member of her group, Dr Peter Tait, said councillors should be alert to, rather than alarmed by, coal’s health costs.
“There should be balance between economics and community health and wellbeing in local government decisions,” Dr Tait said.
“There needs to be a standardised national monitoring system and councillors need to ask questions that relate to public health whenever they have any dealings with coal and coal seam gas companies.
“Questions will help make transparent what these companies are doing, force regulators to regulate, public health departments do what they should be doing and councillors should have input into the national harmonised framework that the federal government is developing now.”
Dr Redmond said she was pleased to see the New South Wales Health Department had recently installed an air quality monitoring system in the Upper Hunter.
“It is starting to monitor PM 2.5 particles, which is very important for people living around Singleton and Muswellbrook,” Dr Redmond said.
“The data is available in real time on the department’s website and that’s a valuable first step as residents who live among all these open-cut coalmines can see what’s happening with the air they’re breathing.
“We’d like to see the health impacts of coalmining, combustion for power generation and the coal seam gas industry questioned and built into the local government decision-making process.”