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Good Weekend: ‘Do you vacuum your lampshades?’ It was an idyllic town. Now it’s cursed by coal dust

Muswellbrook, a coal mining town with large-scale open-pit coal mines in the Hunter region of NSW, was in 2022 named the most polluted postcode in NSW and the third-worst in the country by the Australian Conservation Foundation.

After a long history of coal mining, Muswellbrook is at a crossroads.

The community is divided between those who support MACH Energy’s plans to have the Mount Pleasant coal mine continue operating until 2048 and those who support repurposing the coal-fired Liddell Power Station into a solar panel manufacturing hub as part of a clean energy future.

Dr Ben Ewald, who heads DEA’s air pollution special interest group and teaches epidemiology and public health at the University of Newcastle, spoke to Good Weekend about the health toll that dust from the open-cut coal mines has on the health of local people.

Dr Ewald said coarse-particle dust, which is visible to the naked eye, is most associated with respiratory health problems. But it’s the finer particles that are most harmful to health as they can travel deep into the lungs and the bloodstream, increasing the chance of heart attacks and strokes.

The writer Ryan Butta reflects that what is put in place today for towns like Muswellbrrok will be our collective legacy.

This article is part of the June 15 edition of Good Weekend.

Read the full article in the Sydney Morning Herald (requires a subscription)

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