If there’s a single lesson for politicians from last week’s Victorian election it is that voters want political parties to develop rational policies and stand by them. Despite a major scare campaign around law and order, the ALP leader, Daniel Andrews, stuck to his reasoned platform and was rewarded with a hugely increased majority. He displayed leadership and authority over his party, maintaining a steady course all the way to polling day. With a federal election looming there must be more than a few MPs and candidates contemplating their future in the light of the Victorian result.Read more
Massive coal port expansion could be putting your health at risk
There is no such thing as a safe health threshold for coal dust.
This is confirmed by the World Health Organisation, which stated:
“There may be no safe threshold for fine particulate matter and the effects are linearly related to concentration.”
(World Health Organisation & Australian National Pollution Inventory)
Yet just a few kilometres downwind of the central Queensland city of Mackay, giant coal terminals, which already feature open coal stockpiles, are being proposed for massive expansion.
This puts the health of the people of Mackay and surrounding townships and beach communities – particularly those living closer to the port and rail line, at risk.
What makes coal dust so dangerous?
Coal dust particulates (tiny pieces of coal) are of particular concern because they contain heavy metals which are toxic at low concentrations.
They include lead, mercury, nickel, tin, cadmium, mercury, antimony, and arsenic, as well as radio isotopes of thorium and strontium.
Coal dust, especially fine coal dust, has been identified by health professionals and doctors around the world as causing a range of diseases and health problems.
Examples include an increased incidence of heart and respiratory diseases like asthma and lung cancer.
Fine invisible coal dust particles less than 2.5 microns long lodge in the lungs and are not naturally expelled, so long-term exposure increases the risk of health problems.
More exposure increases risk
The health risks increase with the level and frequency of exposure.
As fine coal dust accumulates in the lungs over time duration of exposure is also a risk factor.
In fact, epidemiological research suggests that there is no threshold at which it is safe to breathe coal dust.
This conclusion is supported both by the World Health Organisation and several research studies.
The factors that may influence the health effects related to exposure to particles include:
- the chemical composition and physical properties of the particles
- the mass concentration of the airborne particles
- the size of the particles (smaller particles may be associated with more adverse effects because they can be inhaled more deeply into the lungs)
- the duration of exposure (short and long term, possibly in years).
Coal dust could be three times worse around Mackay
The Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay coal ports, around 40 km south of Mackay, are together one of the largest coal ports in the world and already put the health of the people of Mackay region at risk.
What’s even worse is that fine coal dust and other particulate levels could increase up to three times current export levels if a proposal for two coal terminals to export up to 180 Mtpa of coal annually from Dudgeon Point within the Hay Point coal port land complex proceeds.
Not enough is being done to protect people’s health
To date there has been no research on the expected health impacts in the Mackay region of coal dust from the rail and port operations at Hay Point.
Data to conduct such research, such as the geographic distribution of the very fine coal dust emissions (smaller than PM 2.5) and related health impacts from current coal exports, is not being collected.
Your health is not being protected
In fact, the standards that the Queensland Government suggests for coal dust are much worse than the standards recommended by the World Health Organisation, and they are not monitored or enforced by government.
What action needs to be taken?
1. Very fine coal dust needs to be properly monitored
Currently, Total Suspended Particulates, (TSP) which includes coal dust from the Hay Point coal terminal is monitored for the larger PM10 particulates, but it is not monitored for the extremely fine particulates that have the potential to do the most damage.
Although a new fine dust monitor that can measure the smaller PM 2.5 particulates is planned for McEwan’s Beach near Dudgeon Point, one monitoring station isn’t enough. There needs to be a network of stations to check the air quality in different areas.
2. Monitoring must occur in Mackay and Northern Beaches
The lightness of fine dust particles allows them to remain suspended for long periods, and to blow hundreds to thousands of kilometres depending on wind and other meteorological conditions.
Prevailing winds blow from the southeast and already blow fine coal dust from the Hay Point port land coal terminals over Mackay.
Coal dust from the existing Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay port terminals within the Hay Point port lands has been reported in east Mackay, Mackay Harbour apartments and as far as Blacks Beach, a northern suburb of Mackay 26 km directly northwest of the Hay Point port lands.
As these particulates are visible they are likely to be PM10 so it seems both PM10 and PM2.5 and smaller particulates are reaching Mackay.
These need to be properly monitored and correlated with health assessments for the area over time.
3. Monitoring of coal dust needs to be continuous and publicly available
The community has a right to know about the dangers to them of coal dust in the air.
At the moment, the coal dust monitoring data that is available, is only available as a monthly average.
While you can get some idea for the month of the percentage and amount of each month’s fine dark particulates (probably the more hazardous coal and diesel particulates) from the monitoring sites, you still do not know daily, hourly, or minute levels of these emissions.
You do not get data that shows more dangerously high levels in “spikes” of emissions due to variability in wind and moisture conditions, and the degree of disturbance of the coal, because they are lost in the presentation of reported data as “averaged” daily and monthly values.
Read the Mackay Conservation Group's submission on the health impacts of coal dust to the Senate Community Affairs Committee
Mackay Conservation Group, which last week joined government scientists on a site visit to Adani’s Abbot Point facility where it was evident Adani had allowed coal to pollute the sensitive Caley Valley wetlands during Cyclone Debbie, say the wholesale breach of Adani’s pollution license shows the company cannot be trusted to operate in Australia
Coordinator of the Mackay Conservation Group, Mr Peter McCallum said, “Even with a license to pollute in its back pocket, Adani has still managed to exceed the permitted discharge of contaminants by 800 per cent. This is one more sign Adani’s mine should not proceed
“This breach isn't a minor one. It's equivalent to driver travelling at over 300km/h in a school zone
“Adani have been found to be operating a coal terminal in a cyclone-prone area that cannot withstand a cyclone without risk of contaminating the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and the Caley Valley Wetlands.Read more
The Mackay Conservation Group (MCG) was established in 1984. At the time, the battle over the Bloomfield to Cape Tribulation road through the Daintree rainforest was in full swing, a battle that ultimately led to the World Heritage listing of the Cape Tribulation National Park. Members of the Mackay community were very concerned about this destruction and came together to form Mackay Conservation Group.
The preservation of the melaleuca forests at Slade Point on Harbour Board land was also of great concern, as were proposals to subdivide Lindeman Island for development.
The 1989 Qld state election which saw the 32 year reign of the National Party government brought to an end, members of the MCG were actively involved in creating and publishing a local score card on election candidates.
Over the years, other issues MCG has campaigned on include:
- Logging of rainforests
- Pesticide and herbicide run-off to the Reef
- Dredging of harbours and the subsequent damage to the Reef and the marine environment
- Establishment of coal ports in sensitive areas like Dudgeon Point
- Protection of Bimblebox Nature Reserve
- Coal dust and its effect on the local community.
In 1993 MCG properties trust was able to buy the building in Wood Street, Mackay. This security of tenure has enabled the group to develop strong connection to the region.
MCG is a registered charity and has Deductible Gift Recipient status, which enables tax deductibility for donations.
MCG is managed by a volunteer community management committee, and currently employs 4 part time workers.
MCG has more than 1,000 members and supporters.
Watch this video about Mackay Conservation Group's history https://youtu.be/HbLdZ0t1kgs