The proposal for a fourth coal terminal at Newcastle has united local residents in a joint effort to protect community and workers’ health. Community members are deeply concerned about the impact of coal dust from the proposed terminal. Health experts visited the city earlier this year to talk about the danger of coal dust.
Between 1984 and 2012 coal exports from Newcastle increased ten-fold from 21 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa) to 210 Mtpa. The proposed fourth terminal (T4) would see this increase to 330 Mtpa, making Newcastle the world’s largest coal port.
A survey of 580 households found that fewer than 10% of residents support T4 and most are concerned about health impacts. Newcastle residents routinely wipe coal dust from every horizontal surface inside and outside their homes. T4 could also mean 100 more uncovered coal trains every day, resulting in even higher levels of particle pollution. There are currently 25,000 children attending schools within 500 metres of the coal corridor.
The health and social harms of coal mining and transport are well documented. People living in coal-effected communities are more likely to suffer heart, lung and kidney cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular disease and birth defects. There is a direct link between long-term exposure to particle pollution and hospital admissions, emergency department attendance, asthma, respiratory and cardiovascular disease, congestive heart failure and premature death.
The fine particles associated with coal mining, coal transport and the diesel emissions from coal trains are monitored at locations throughout the Hunter Valley. During the last year, monitoring stations recorded 98 exceedances of the national standard for PM10 (particles of up to ten microns in diameter). Residents who subscribe to the EPA’s air pollution alerts often receive more than one each day, especially on dry, windy days when coal dust is blown from the valley’s vast open cut mines.
NSW Planning Minister Brad Hazzard has established Planning Assessment Commission to weigh up T4’s merits and impacts. They must weight up the concerns raised in 500 submissions, 90% of which opposed the terminal. Commissioners will advise the Minister in early 2013. In their submission on T4, NSW Health noted that there are already exceedances of the national PM10 standard in Newcastle and that uncovered coal wagons and diesel emissions will increase particle pollution in residential areas between the mines and the port.
There are also concerns about workers’ health. A cancer cluster has been identified at one of Newcastle’s three existing coal terminals. Between 1983 and 2006, 63 cancers including melanoma, prostate and bowel cancer were diagnosed among 859 company employees. Terminal workers are 1.8 times more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than the average population and 2.8 times more likely than those only employed at a neighbouring terminal.
The proposed terminal would also have a huge environmental impact. Increased coal exports would mean at least 15 new or expanded open-cut coalmines in the Hunter Valley and Gunnedah Basin, resulting in destruction of forests and agricultural land, and polluted water. Burning the coal would produce more than 300 million tonnes of greenhouse pollution each year, more than every power station and every vehicle in Australia. The proposed terminal and its uncovered coal piles would displace hundreds of hectares of wetland on Kooragang Island where 117 bird species have been recorded, including at least four migratory shorebirds. Much of Kooragang Island is internationally recognised under the Ramsar Convention.
The community are concerned however that these facts alone will not prevent the NSW Government approving Port Waratah Coal Services proposal, and that T4 will only be rejected through community and political pressure. The local alliance of 14 community groups is actively communicating these concerns to elected representatives but seek wider community support.
Health professionals and groups can help protect the Newscastle community from the run-away impacts of the coal boom by:
1. Writing to Premier Barry O’Farrell and Planning Minister Brad Hazzard to express your concern. Click here http://stopt4.org.au to send an instant letter to them.
2. Donate to the Coal Terminal Action Group http://tinyurl.com/stopt4donate who are currently raising funds for air quality monitoring along the coal corridor and to place a full page ad in the Newcastle Herald.
3. Like CTAG on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/CoalTerminalActionGroup to receive regular updates about campaign events and developments.
James Whelan, Coal Terminal Action Group