Biting the dust: Elderly couple's property 'engulfed by coal cloud'

AN ELDERLY couple fear “great big clouds of black dust” emanating from a coalmine near their home could have grave health implications.

Clive and Diana Kirkby had lived in relative harmony with Whitehaven Coal’s underground mine at Narrabri since it began commercial production in 2012.

All that changed about three months ago, however, when they noticed a fine black dust had started infiltrating not only their home but, potentially, their water system. 

Mr and Mrs Kirkby – aged 76 and 71 respectively – have lived on the farm, which has been gradually reduced to a modest 160-hectare horse stud, for the past 32 years.

But with it situated just two kilometres from a mine that has approval to extract six million tonnes of coal a year, Mr Kirkby is questioning whether they can stay.

“We don’t need to be disturbed at our age,” he said. “If I could get out of here, I’d go. We don’t need all this hassle and toxic dust and stuff.

“I’m not against the mining like some kind of hippy. I didn’t care about the underground mine until it started to impact on our lives with coal dust.

“But it’s not supposed to be spewing out all this dust. Great columns of black dust will come out hundreds of feet in the air and whichever way the wind’s blowing, you cop it.

“It’s upset my wife badly, she never stops cleaning the house. It’s on top of fridges and in cupboards and on tables and you just have to run your finger along a windowsill and there it is.”

A Whitehaven Coal spokeswoman told The Leader samples had been collected from the Kirkby’s property to determine “the extent of any impacts”.

“Importantly, our ongoing dust monitoring has shown that Whitehaven continues to operate well below our statutory maximum dust levels,” she said.

“Once the results of these investigations are known, we will share them with the Kirkbys and agree on any future course of action.”

The spokeswoman said the recent hot and dry conditions had affected the mine’s operations in recent months.

“Whitehaven is investigating additional measures that should substantially reduce visible dust being generated at the site, while also being mindful not to draw unnecessarily on the water supply,” she said.

“These measures include additional training for staff, reviewing existing procedures and upgrading some machinery.”

Mr Kirkby said his own research into the health impacts of inhaling coal dust had him worried for both his and his wife’s health.

“I’m too old to get killed by it, I suppose, but I just think it’s horrific the way that they put these mines there and pretend they’re not damaging the place,” he said.

“My wife, within the last few months, has developed lung problems and is being treated by a specialist in Tamworth.

“Of course I can’t say it was caused by the dust, but it’s very toxic stuff and it is worrying.”

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