By Ross Tyson
AN ELDERLY couple fearful of the effects coal dust is having on their health are still waiting anxiously for the results of testing at their property.
Clive and Diana Kirkby last month spoke of their concerns over “great big clouds of black dust” coming from Whitehaven Coal’s underground mine at Narrabri.
Mr and Mrs Kirkby, both aged in their 70s, live just two kilometres from the mine site and claim a fine black dust has started infiltrating their home in recent months.
The final straw came when a repairman investigating problems with their water system discovered a black substance – suspected to be coal dust – in their tank.
Whitehaven Coal denied its dust emissions had exceeding air quality standards, but admitted a hot and dry summer had “affected the mine’s operations”.
The impact of coal dust on health is an emerging issue in the north-west, with a number of coalmines either expanding or expected to enter production in the coming years.
Liverpool Plains farmer and speech pathologist Nicola Chirlian has studied the issue closely and is concerned at the evidence coming out of more established coalmining areas.
Once a week for work she drives over the hill at Murrurundi and sees “the haze of pollutants hanging over the top of the Hunter Valley”.
She is campaigning for health impact statements to be made a mandatory part of every company’s application to construct a new mine.
“I ran a health forum in Gunnedah a couple of years ago and from that the Gunnedah community said they wanted health impact statements to be done on the basin,” she said.
“We put together a proposal that went to state and federal politicians and we’ve been heard, but we haven’t had any action on it.”
Dr Ben Ewald, a spokesman for Doctors for the Environment Australia, said the group had “considerable concerns” about the ramifications of coal dust on people’s health.
“Obviously the people working in the underground mines are exposed to much higher doses and in the old days miners were dying of black lung all the time,” he said.
“The exposure people get by living adjacent to a mine is much less than what they’d get by working underground, but the employees are choosing to work underground.”