Newcastle Herald: Climate change & health concerns drive opposition to Rocky Hill mine at Gloucester

GLOUCESTER is a rural area in the foothills of the World Heritage-listed Barrington Tops National Park which has a pristine environment of high ecological significance. It is inconceivable that an open cut mine that aims to extract 21 million tonnes of coal is planned for these parts, and will be within two kilometres of residential areas – places where people live and bring up families.

Living near open cut coalmines can be detrimental to health. Studies have shown effects including an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, respiratory illnesses such as asthma, high blood pressure, kidney disease and strokes. For children there can be an increased risk of asthma, high lead levels and school absences. In the Appalachian mountains in the US, open cut coalmines have been shown to increase the risk of neural tube defects and low birth weight.

It is not only the local population which could be at increased health risk. The coal will be transported 9.2 kilometres by truck to the Stratford Mining Complex and loaded onto trains which will travel to Newcastle where the coal will be loaded onto ships for export. We believe anyone living along this route will have an increased risk of disease. Also these ships use high sulphur fuels which cause an increase in sulphur dioxide.

There are other concerns.

The effects of blasting (up to four blasts per week) and the subsequent risk of toxic blast plumes; noise and light pollution; having “unavoidable impact” on nine Aboriginal heritage sites; and the risk of fires.

The Rocky Hill open cut coalmine is in a relatively flat fertile agricultural area on the banks of the Avon River and Waukivory creek, and will be 220 metres deep and 142 hectares in size. The whole complex will be 497 hectares in size.

According to the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), “there would not be any reduced availability to the shallow groundwater system”. The EIS goes on to say the “groundwater levels would recover within approximately 15 years after mine closure”. How can an open cut mine of that size not affect water flow and how can it be guaranteed that the water levels will recover? Who will be held accountable if they do not?

The mining, transportation and combustion of coal lead to an increase in carbon emissions. In 2015 the Paris Agreement brought countries together to limit global emissions to keep temperature below 2oC, with an aim for a target of 1.5oC. Anyone who understands global warming will realise that this means we must burn less coal.

Due to the burning of coal it is estimated there are at least 210,000 premature deaths worldwide each year. This is a result of poor air quality but also extreme weather events which are occurring more frequently. We have seen the worst bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef ever due to high water temperatures. We have seen an unprecedented 700 kilometres of tropical mangroves die. We have had 16 consecutive months of increasing global temperatures. The scientists have been warning us and it is happening.

The Rocky Hill mine is a potential health and environmental disaster and there is no need for it. The cost benefit analysis claims a net benefit but this does not take into account the ongoing health and environmental impacts.

Submissions on the Rocky Hill open cut mine close on October 14. The proposal can be viewed at majorprojects.planning.nsw.gov.au/index.pl?action=view_job&job_id=5156

Dr John Van Der Kallen is a Newcastle physician and Dr Garry Lyford is a Gloucestor GP.

Both are members of Doctors for the Environment Australia

First published in the Newcastle Herald on 4 October 2016

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