OVERWHELMING evidence exists that coalmining and the burning of coal is harmful to health and can have a significant effect on communities, a medical study to be published today has found.
The Medical Journal of Australia article also declares that to persist in mining and burning coal will condemn future generations to catastrophic climate change, which the study’s authors say is the biggest health problem of the future.
The Hunter Valley is singled out as cause for concern, with a parallel drawn between coalmines opening and the region’s inhabitants developing depression, anxiety and ill health.
The authors, William Castleden, David Shearman, George Crisp and Philip Finch, are from Western Australia’s Fremantle Hospital, Perth Pain Management Centre and Murdoch University, and South Australia’s University of Adelaide and Doctors for the Environment Australia.
They said concerns about the expansion of coalmining were growing.
As a result, doctors were being asked about coal and its effects on health.
The article said Australian work on the subject was lacking, but limited evidence suggested health effects were similar to those reported in other developed countries, such as the United States.
Deaths and injuries to miners, lung disease, and coal transport’s traffic accident risk and greenhouse gas emissions are raised in the article.
So too potential environmental damage to water supplies and air pollution.
The Hunter Valley is highlighted in regard to social and mental health concerns.
‘‘Coalmining can change the lifestyle and character of a community,’’ the article said. ‘‘Medical practitioners in coalmining areas have reported that increases in asthma, stress and mental ill health have become more common.
‘‘As more coalmines are opened, as has occurred in the Hunter Valley in NSW, the social fabric of a region changes, the role and function of a township alters, and many inhabitants of these regions have developed depression, anxiety and ill health.’’
Also flagged in the study were the potentially heightened risk of premature death for people living near coal-burning power plants, and release of toxic elements with coal combustion, such as arsenic, mercury and lead.
The authors also state in the article that the federal government’s proposal to put a price on carbon was an important public health measure.