Media release: Health practitioners call for imminent phase out of coal-fired power stations

5 April 2016

Hundreds of health professionals including leading doctors have signed an open letter calling on the Victorian Premier to urgently nominate a time frame for closing down the harmful coal-fired power plants in the Latrobe Valley, and developing a transition plan for the local community.

Health practitioners will deliver the open letter to Premier Andrews on Tuesday 5 April at 9.15am on the steps of Victoria’s Parliament House. The Parliamentary Secretary for Health Mary-Anne Thomas will be there to accept the letter on the Premier’s behalf.

There is currently no plan to retire Latrobe Valley’s four ageing power plants.  A plan is needed to ensure a just and healthy transition away from the coal industry for the local communities, to protect their future health and economic prosperity.

Medical advocacy organisation Doctors for the Environment Australia has organised the open letter along with the Climate and Health Alliance and Healthy Futures.

DEA Victorian Chair Dr John Iser says pollution from coal burning causes cardiovascular, respiratory and neurological diseases, as well as lung cancers.

It also contributes to the reduced life expectancy of residents in the Latrobe Valley compared with those in other regions in Gippsland, and Victoria overall. Children in the Latrobe Valley are below the state average in key areas of health.

These health harms also place pressure on the public purse. Hazelwood incurs health and social costs estimated to be around $900 million per year.

Coal is also a major contributor to climate change, and we are already seeing the affects of an increase in temperatures through heat waves and devastating bushfires.

Says Professor Peter Brooks, “We must stick to pledges made in Paris 2015 to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions – Victoria has probably already used up its carbon budget to keep global warming less than 1.5 degree C, while Australia’s emissions are continuing to increase.

“Failure to act on our outdated coal industry is unconscionable, given the harm it has on public health. Doctors, nurses and other health professionals have a duty of care to our patients and we must speak out against coal much like we did in the anti-tobacco campaign.“

There are good alternatives to coal-fired power and a planned transition to clean energy such as solar and wind power and other industries will improve health and job prospects of locals.

Associate Professor Grant Blashki says, “Australia is like a grumpy old smoker who refuses to give up even as the price of cigarettes goes up and up-  the real price of coal when the health costs are included is enormous and growing.   Overseas, many places are switching off these polluting plants. Last year, the UK government announced it was closing all coal-fired electricity plants by 2025. Scotland burnt its last supplies of coal last week.”

Professor Rob Moodie, Director of Teaching and Learning at the Melbourne School of Population Health, says, “The Victorian Government has a golden opportunity to lock in better health outcomes for people in the Latrobe Valley.

“Residents of the Valley have suffered enough from the health impacts of coal pollution.  As a former Minister for Health, Premier Andrews understands the need to create a healthier future, as well as an economically brighter future for those in the Valley.”

Contacts

DEA Victorian Chair Dr John Iser, 0428 599 025

A/Professor Grant Blashki from the Nossal Institute for Global Health, University of Melbourne and GP, 0407 662 771

Professor Peter Brooks, Professorial Fellow at the Centre for Health Policy- School of Population and Global Health University of Melbourne, 0411 408 581

Professor Brooks was until recently the Executive Director Research at Northern Hospital Epping. He has held previous posts as Executive Dean of Health Sciences at the University of Queensland, as Professor of Medicine at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney (University of New South Wales) and was the Foundation Professor of Rheumatology at the Royal North Shore Hospital and the University of Sydney

Fiona Armstrong, Executive Director Climate and Health Alliance, 0438 900 005

Photo Opportunity

12 health practitioners will deliver the letter to Premier Daniel Andrews on Tuesday 5 April at 9.15am on the steps of the Victorian Parliament.

Some will be in scrubs and surgical masks and stethoscopes to highlight health risks.

They will also have a large board showing all the signatories.

Resources

You can see the content and signatories of the open letter here: http://www.healthyfutures.net.au/just_transition

Submission to the Hazelwood Coal Mine Fire Inquiry, August 2015

http://dea.org.au/images/uploads/submissions/Hazelwood_Coal_Mine_Fire_Inquiry_submission_08-15.pdf

About DEA

DEA is an independent health advocacy organisation of medical doctors raising awareness of the link between health and the environment http://dea.org.au

We are supported by a scientific advisory committee:

Professor Stephen Boyden AM; Professor Peter Doherty AC; Professor Dave Griggs; Professor Michael Kidd AM; Professor David de Kretser AC; Professor Stephen Leeder AO; Professor Ian Lowe AO; Professor Robyn McDermott; Professor Lidia Morawska; Professor Peter Newman AO; Professor Emeritus Sir Gustav Nossal AC; Professor Hugh Possingham; Professor Lawrie Powel AC; Professor Fiona Stanley AC; Dr Rosemary Stanton OAM; Dr Norman Swan.

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