NEW mines should be banned in the Hunter and moves made to phase out the coal industry because of its damage to human health, which is costing the community more than $650million a year, a report prepared by health experts, academics and environmental scientists says.
The Climate and Health Alliance, which includes former Australians of the Year Professor Tim Flannery and Professor Fiona Stanley, will issue a letter to Premier Mike Baird on Monday calling on his government not to approve any new coal projects in the region.
The alliance’s report estimates the annual health costs from mining are $600million due to pollution from the Hunter’s power stations, $65.3million due to fine dust particle emissions from coal mines and power stations in the Upper Hunter and $13million from air pollution from coal in Newcastle.
The report argues that not enough is being done to protect residents from dust pollution which can cause serious respiratory problems and other illnesses. And though the industry is a big employer in the region, the letter cautions that the ‘‘social fabric’’ of the region and lives of residents had been disrupted by coal companies buying land for mining.
‘‘People’s health is at risk from declining air quality associated with coal mining, transportations and combustion,’’ the letter says.
‘‘The illnesses and deaths associated with air pollution from coal in the region are potentially costing taxpayers millions of dollars each year.’’
The report argues the continued expansion of the industry should be blocked to allow the development of alternative industries that are ‘‘safer for the local community and do not cause global harm’’.
The report uses previous estimates from research into the health costs of coal combustion and fine dust and applies those to the recent pollution levels detected in the region.
For example, very fine dust particles, known as ‘‘PM 2.5’’, had previously been costed at about $36,000 a tonne in health damages in Singleton.
This puts the cost of PM 2.5 particles emitted in Singleton in 2012-13 at about $47million.
The report also notes the amount of slightly larger dust particles, known as ‘‘PM 10’’, in 2012-13 was 96,000 tonnes.
That was more than 29times the amount produced by all of the state’s motor vehicles and four times the amount produced by bushfires, reduction burns and domestic fuel consumption.
Alliance president Liz Hanna, fellow of the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, said the Hunter was the focus of the report because it was ‘‘the perfect storm’’ of coal expansion into agricultural and residential areas.
She described the government’s air quality monitoring network, which it often cites as addressing public concerns, as ‘‘tokenistic’’ when stricter regulation and comprehensive health studies were also needed.
She said it was ‘‘morally unjust’’ for the government to continue approving mines in the face of mounting evidence of health impacts.
‘‘The benefits and profits of mining go to a few and the public picks up the cost,’’ Dr Hanna said.
The NSW Environment Protection Authority is preparing a Lower Hunter particle characterisation study, which will provide information about the composition of dust particles in the region.
A 2010 report by NSW Health said the Hunter had higher-than-average rates of respiratory illness, but there was no conclusive link to air pollution.