Response to Doctors for the Environment

February 13, 2014

Most people in NSW understand the importance of mining to our economy, our way of life and the tens of thousands of jobs mining supports across our state.

NSW has been mining coal for export since 1798, and coal mining continues to be one of the state’s most important industries, providing around 85 per cent of electricity, around one quarter of exports by value, and employing many thousands of people across the State.

Some inaccurate claims have been made about the state’s mining operations without a full appreciation of some facts.

The NSW Minerals Council and the state’s mining companies take the issue of health and air quality very seriously.

Coal mining does makes a contribution to particle pollution, along with most other industries and activities that are part of our modern society. Everything from cars and other machinery, sea spray, smoke from wood fires and dust from earth moving and agriculture.

The contribution of coal mining to PM2.5 - the smallest particulate matter of greatest health concern - is relatively small, as documented in recent studies including by the CSIRO last year in the Upper Hunter. Other emissions such as from vehicles, bushfires, power stations and soil also contribute. Woodsmoke from home heating was a major contributor, responsible for over 60 per cent of particulate pollution in the winter months.1

Studies also show limited differences between the incidences of health issues in mining and non-mining communities. Analysis of GP data by NSW Health in 2010 to examine the potential health effects of the mining industry and other exposures in the Upper Hunter has found conditions presenting to GPs and medications prescribed by GPs in the region are similar to those in the rest of non-metropolitan NSW.2

NSW has some of the highest air quality standards in the world, and these standards are generally met, including in Newcastle, home of the world’s largest coal export port. Long-term monitoring has shown national air quality standards for particulate matter in Newcastle have been met for all of the last ten years except for 2009 when dust storms engulfed the state.3

A report prepared by the Office of Environment and Heritage in 2012 concluded that “...overall air quality in the Lower Hunter is as good – or better than – air quality in Sydney and the Illawarra.”4

We regularly monitor the health of our workforce to ensure no ongoing pattern of illness amongst those working literally ‘at the coalface’ in our mines. This monitoring has found no increased pattern of respiratory-related illness amongst NSW coal miners, and there has not been a case of ‘black lung’ in NSW for over 40 years.5

We respect everyone’s right to express their view on mining. However a balanced perspective is needed, based on science, facts and evidence, and accepting that mining is essential for almost every critical input for a functioning, modern society, including the electricity provided by coal.
4. Office of Environment and Heritage 2012 - An Assessment of Three Reports Concerning Air Quality in the Lower Hunter Region

5. Coal Services Pty Ltd 2012 - Coal Services and NSW coal mining industry continue to protect mine workers from ‘black lung’ disease.

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