IF YOU go to the NSW Environment Protection Authority’s website you can find details about the Upper Hunter open cut coal mine interim dust assessment handbook which was produced to help mine operators improve air quality.
The handbook was produced by the EPA, the mining industry and Department of Planning. There was no acknowledged involvement from the Department of Health or community or environmental groups.
The handbook has helpful information for multinational mining companies about how to keep the dust down on massive open cut coal mine sites that cover thousands of hectares of the Upper Hunter.
The website says the handbook contains “photographs that illustrate when to consider operational changes to minimise or reduce dust”; information on whether mining activities are being conducted “in a proper and efficient manner”, and a list of factors to think about “in assessing whether operational changes are required” at times when the risk of air quality impacts is high.
The handbook is also available in a “glovebox-sized” form made of “durable materials to withstand day-to-day use in the mining environment”.
Mine critics would argue multinational mining companies turning over millions of tonnes of coal on a single site, and making millions of dollars in the process, should not need a helpful handbook to remind them they have neighbours whose health should be prioritised.
But this is an industry and a government where mining employment and royalties are prioritised, and where residents and their health appears to be factor that has to be addressed and managed without affecting production.
Figures produced by Doctors for the Environment at a recent Planning Assessment Commission hearing into a coal mine expansion are of serious concern.
Singleton Hospital’s emergency admissions jumped dramatically between 2016 and 2017 at a time when air quality data shows emissions were high enough to trigger exceedances in national health standards.
The data doesn’t show the breakdown of those admissions. Presumably respiratory and cardiac-related figures don’t account for all of the 28.6 per cent spike. But it stands out against other Hunter hospitals and the state average and is cause for concern. But how much data is needed to get action?