AN INTERNATIONAL report has revealed the possible ill health effects coal mining developments have on their local communities, sparking fears of similar results in the Hunter and the North West.
It found there were recurring adverse health problems – from cancer, heart, lung and kidney diseases to birth defects – in 10 international coalmining communities, including the United States and the United Kingdom.
The report, Health and Social Harms of Mining in Local Communities: Spotlight on the Hunter Region, looked at 50 peer- reviewed studies on the health and social impacts of coalmining and combustion.
Environmental group Beyond Zero Emissions commissioned the study and says it’s likely that many of the impacts – especially those experienced by communities in comparable countries – would also apply in Australia.
Liverpool Plains landholder Tim Duddy had been a driving force behind the report when campaigning for the Upper Hunter seat at the previous state government election.
While unsuccessful in the seat, Mr Duddy was able to put together the Singleton Environment Group during his campaigning, which pushed for the study.
Researchers from the University of Sydney compiled the information over an 18-month period and unveiled the results this week.
Their evidence from the international health literature found that living near coalmines or coal power stations caused serious harm to people’s health.
While the report highlights the Hunter district, Mr Duddy suggested the impacts could also be seen in the North West.
With more than five operating coalmines in the region, and several more possibly to come – including Whitehaven’s huge Maules Creek coal project which received state planning approval last week – communities are calling for a health impact study to address the issue.
The report found in Australia there were no primary studies addressing the health impacts of coal.
A North West Alliance of community groups has already taken the call for a proper health study upon themselves and lobbied the state government on the issue.
Alliance spokesman, and Maules Creek resident Phil Laird, said they had pushed the study as a matter of urgency and the new report would vindicate it.
“The report is a big leap forward from where we were – it will put health on the agenda,” Mr Laird said.
Mr Duddy said much more work needed to be done and a health study was extremely necessary.
He believes a study will happen in time because there were huge implications for the government if one wasn’t conducted.
“Who knows ... we could end up with a huge class action suit one day,” Mr Duddy said.
He said real problems were on the way and the minerals industry would become unstuck when its negative impacts were revealed.
“If we don’t plan here (in the North West) the same mistakes could be made as those in the Hunter,” Mr Duddy said.
The NSW Minerals Council immediately discredited the report, saying the Beyond Zero Emissions “activist group” had misrepresented it.
The council said it was part of the group’s ongoing campaign to do whatever it took to sabotage an industry that directly supported 17,000 local workers and their families.
The council said the group’s media statement omitted the report’s key findings, such as “no specific research studies were found to confirm or refute the existence of mining related disease clusters among residents of the Hunter Region, or their possible causes if they do exist.”
It says mining is heavily regulated in the state according to high environmental and health standards.