‘Sick of Coal’ public meeting calls on NSW Planning Minister to reject 4th coal terminal

A well-attended public meeting in Newcastle heard from international air quality expert Professor Peter Orris tonight on the health impacts of living alongside coal mining, trains, stockpiles and ship loading. The meeting was called by an alliance of community groups in response to growing concerns about the health and environmental impact of particle pollution from coal wagons and stockpiles in Newcastle and along the Hunter line.

The keynote speaker, Professor Peter Orris, is the Director of Occupation and Environmental Medicine at the University of Illinois in Chicago. He has served as advisor to WHO, PAHO, Federal, State and Local Governments, environmental organisations, unions and corporations. The meeting also heard from Fiona Armstrong, convenor of the Climate and Health Alliance, a national coalition of health professionals that work together to raise awareness about the benefits to health from climate action and environmental protection. The meeting also heard from Georgina Woods, well-known in Newcastle for leading community campaigns. Ms Woods recently joined Greenpeace as a senior climate change campaigner.

Professor Orris described a range of health impacts that are caused directly from coal dust including aggravated asthma, respiratory-related emergency room visits and hospital admissions, acute respiratory symptoms, chronic bronchitis, decreased lung function (shortness of breath) and premature death. In the United States, particle pollution contributes to the premature death of 15,000 people each year. These health impacts are especially experienced by people with existing heart and lung disease, the elderly and the more than 23,000 children attending schools within 500m of the Hunter coal corridor.

Four resolutions were supported, three unanimously and one with one abstainer. Approximately 100 people in attendance called on (1) NSW Planning Minister Brad Hazzard to reject the proposed fourth coal terminal; (2) Minister Hazzard and Member for Newcastle Tim Owen to address a public meeting in Newcastle in coming weeks; and (3) the NSW and Australian Governments to move toward a national standard for fine particles (PM2.5) as a matter of urgency. The meeting also supported calls for coal wagons to be covered to reduce dust.

“We resolved to call on industry to cover the coal wagons traveling through Newcastle suburbs and the Hunter,” said CTAG spokesperson John Hayes, “but do so with reservation. We do not know for sure that covering coal wagons will reduce particle pollution to healthy levels in Newcastle, especially with the prospect of T4 bringing an extra 107 coal trains through our suburbs. Reducing particle pollution by only 50% whilst doubling the volume of coal transported through Newcastle, wont solve the community’s health problems” said Mr Hayes.

The 16 groups working together as the Coal Terminal Action Group have commissioned their own Dust and Health study, which will commission air quality monitoring in suburbs close to the coal corridor, commencing soon.

We noted with concern that the submission from NSW Health on T4 expressed concern about particle pollution levels which already regularly exceed national standards in Newcastle and the Hunter. The Planning Department needs to put the proposed terminal on hold until these concerns are addressed,” said Mr Hayes.

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