THE heavy hitters of Australia’s health and climate sector have called for urgent action on the health risks associated with coal mining and coal seam gas extraction.
A new collaborative network of health organisations has met in Canberra and endorsed a plan to raise awareness about the adverse health effects of Australia’s current minerals and energy policy, which has allowed for the rapid expansion of mining, coal seam gas operations and exploration projects across the nation, including the Gunnedah basin and Pilliga region.
The Health and Energy Roundtable was hosted by five national health organisations: the Public Health Association of Australia, Climate and Health Alliance, National Rural Health Alliance, Climate Change Health Research Network and the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association.
It involved energy experts, community activists and health professionals, including doctors, physicians, nurses, physiotherapists and GPs, from dozens of organisations around the country.
These included Cancer Council Australia, Heart Foundation, Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth, National Toxics Network, Australian Physiotherapy Association and NSW Nurses and Midwives Association.
“The risks to human health from energy and resources policy are not being well accounted for in current policy decisions,” a joint statement from the meeting said.
“Significant policy reform is needed to ensure health and wellbeing is not compromised by policy decisions in other sectors.
“Recognising the importance of the social and environmental determinants of health is an important part of that.”
Climate and Health Alliance convenor Fiona Armstrong said the overriding concern was that climate change was being driven by energy choices and minerals policies that favoured fossil fuels over renewable energy resources.
The meeting agreed that communities living in proximity to these mining activities not only suffered adverse social impacts, but also an increased risk of respiratory disease, heart disease and lung cancer.
There were also serious concerns raised about the availability of data and support for health research on the issue, particularly with regards to water and air pollution.
“The health impacts of minerals and energy policy must be an area of research priority that is given significant levels of independent funding, and there needs to be greatly increased surveillance and monitoring to ensure sufficient data collection on which to base this research,” the joint statement said.
The meeting identified a need for more education about the health implications of energy policy choices, and encouraged health professionals across all disciplines to advocate for minerals, energy and climate policies on the basis of health.
The groups also committed to developing a framework for joint advocacy and announced plans for a campaign featuring health professionals calling for an urgent transition to renewable energy sources.