Doctors concerned by Vic coal-mine fire

2 March 2014

Doctors at the Morwell rally in Victoria today expressed concern about coal’s threat to our health and environment.

Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) spoke at today’s rally in Morwell. The town of over 13,000 has been experiencing levels of air pollution rarely experienced in Australia from the Hazelwood coal mine fire for three weeks now.

DEA spokesperson, Dr Merryn Redenbach said today, “Medical doctors around the country are concerned about these fires and their impacts on the health of people who are exposed.

“Burning coal releases a cocktail of noxious pollutants, including carbon monoxide, methane, sulphur and nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, particulate matter and potentially toxic trace elements such as arsenic and mercury.” she said.

High levels of particulate matter have been recorded over the last three weeks around Morwell. These particulates – especially the fine particles referred to as PM2.5 (less than 2.5 microns in diameter) – can go deep into the lungs and aggravate heart and lung disease, and increase the risk of premature death.

Dr Redenbach said, “This coal-mine fire reminds us of coal’s on-going threat to our health and environment.

“It is unfortunate that Australia lags behind other countries in collecting and reporting on levels of fine particle pollution, as this is one of the most important ways we can understand health impacts.

“Our immediate concern is for the health and welfare of the people exposed to pollution through this fire, but we need to also not forget the longer term threats to health from coal to this community and many others.

“We know that in addition to acute exposures such as this fire, ongoing coal mining and burning produces pollutants that carry long-term health risks.

“The EPA does not routinely monitor fine particle pollution around communities near coal mines, such as Morwell,” Dr Redenbach said.

A senate inquiry last year recommended that pollution monitoring should accurately document the exposure of communities near major pollution sources and that developments should not proceed unless they do. Buffer zones to protect affected communities were also recommended.

“This fire highlights the hidden costs of electricity from coal which tend to fall disproportionally on some communities, and this is happening now to the Latrobe Valley residents.

“It is time to transition away from polluting coal to healthier, cleaner energy sources,” said Dr Redenbach.

More information

Recent article by A/Prof Marion Carey (DEA management committee) http://dea.org.au/news/article/coal-mine-fires-remind-us-of-coals-threat-to-our-environment-climate-and-he with extracts in The Conversation https://theconversation.com/young-and-old-told-to-leave-morwell-south-amid-smoke-fears-23823

The Senate. Community Affairs Reference Committee ‘Impact on health of air quality in Australia’ August 2013. http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/Completed_inquiries/2010-13/airquality/report/~/media/wopapub/senate/committee/clac_ctte/completed_inquiries/2010-13/air_quality/report/report.ashx

DEA spokespersons:

Dr Merryn Redenbach; DEA research and liaison officer. M: 0407 825 046

Dr Eugenie Kayak; Victorian Chair DEA. M: 0419 685 574

 

Doctors for the Environment Australia

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