Doctors urge action from federal government to protect health from unconventional gas mining

13 April 2016

Doctors from the health organisation Doctors for the Environment Australia, presenting before the Senate Committee on Unconventional Gas Mining in Darwin on Tuesday 12 April, said after a previous Senate Inquiry and numerous state inquiries, Australian governments have still not done enough to protect public health.

A 2011 Senate interim report recommended a comprehensive review of chemicals used by the industry be delivered within two years.

Says DEA spokesperson Professor John Willoughby, “Five years later, we are still waiting for access to this information, which is vital to assessing human health risks.

“How can we advise people who may have been exposed to chemicals about their health risks if these chemicals are kept secret from the public or if there is no available information on their toxicity to humans?”

The same report also acknowledged that the unconventional gas industry was a relatively short-lived industry that should not be allowed “to put at risk vital food producing industries and the land, water and communities on which they depend”. George Bender, whose death has sparked the current inquiry knew this but he couldn’t get anyone to listen.

With growing scientific research pointing to a range of potential impacts, doctors are increasingly concerned about lack of funding of sound long-term research on the health effects of this industry, and about still inadequate protections for health in the face of knowledge gaps.

DEA says in its submission that until the potential health and environmental impacts of the unconventional gas industry are adequately assessed, further developments should not be permitted. However, if the industry is to expand, the Australian government should provide a national framework of guidelines and regulation.

Professor John Willoughby said, “Water and air pollution don’t respect borders. We require a uniform approach if we are to protect our water, agricultural land and the air upon which our health depends.”

In addition, climate change is increasingly recognized as health risk, and methane released by unconventional gas activity is a potent greenhouse gas with many times the global warming impact of carbon dioxide.

Says Professor Willoughby, “Given the many renewable options, why support this risky industry at a time when our very survival depends on leaving fossil fuels in the ground?

“We need our federal government to act now to protect the interests of the public and our health.”


Dr John Willoughby is Professor Emeritus of Medicine, Flinders University.

Dr Marion Carey is a Public Health Physician specializing in Environmental Health.


DEA submission to the Select Committee on Unconventional Gas Mining

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