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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Newcastle residents protest health effects of proposed 4th coal export terminal

Newcastle residents and activists protested the lack of consideration of health and climate change effects in the proposed building of a fourth coal terminal at the port of Newcastle, already the world's largest coal port. A peaceful protest and 'lockon' occurred outside The office of NSW Minister for Planning Brad Hazzard last Thursday who is due to consider the merits of the proposal.

Related: Newcastle’s T4 project puts short-term profit before health | Something in the air: time for independent testing in coal areas | Coal Terminal Action Group

Dressed as doctors and patients, about 20 protestors holding banners and placards occupied the front steps of Governor Macquarie Tower at 1 Farrer Place, Sydney.

Two campaigners were allowed in to meet with Minister Hazzard's staff. They spent 25 minutes discussing the 4th terminal and relaying the community's concerns over health and climate and requested a public meeting in Newcastle with the Minister.

On the steps of the building Spokesperson Alex McInnis said "We are here because there are plans to expand Newcastle coal port, which is going to hurt the health of the community because of the impact of coal dust. It's also going to damage our farmland and climate."

"So, we've come to Minister for Planning Brad Hazzard's office to urge him to reject the planned expansion of the coal port and listen to the communities concerns over health and put those concerns in front of the interests of the coal companies and reject the coal terminal." she said.

Another protestor dressed in a medical gown said: "We are here today because in the respiratory unit the asthma caused by coal dust in the Hunter region and Newcastle is a serious health hazard. We are asking Minister Hazzard not to allow the proposed 4th coal terminal in Newcastle to go ahead."

Police attended and asked the protestors to move. Some voluntarily left the steps. Two protestors in medical gowns refused and had their locks removed by the Police Rescue Squad and were taken away and arrested.

A steep drop in coal prices and reduced Demand for coal has caused many coal companies like Rio Tinto and Xstrata to shelve expansion plans in the Hunter Valley and cut jobs.

The fourth coal terminal at Newcastle proposed by Port Waratah Coal Services will expand coal export capacity from 210 to 330 million tonnes each year, yet the demand for coal appears to be falling. Mining and transport of this coal will double the coal dust pollution from coal trains, piles and coal loaders that people breath in towns throughout the Hunter Valley.

Medical academics have argued that Newcastle’s T4 project puts short-term profit before health. Public health and comprehensive health monitoring has taken second place in coal regions to the arguments in favour of economic development. The long term health costs are simply never factored into the economic costs.

The medical and health issues of coal are well known. Coal dust contributes to asthma, cancer, heart disease and stroke and it interferes with lung development and compromises intellectual capacity. In the US there has been health costing data gathered showing that if the cost of disease resulting from coal was paid for by the coal and power industries it would almost double the cost of electricity. Up to 50,000 deaths each year in the US are attributed to pollution from power plants. A 2009 report by Physicians for Social Responsibility (USA) outlined 'Coal's Assault on Human Health' and the need to phase out coal on health, energy and climate grounds.

In Australia we have a woeful record of pollution monitoring and assessing health costs from coal. A good start to addressing the imbalance between economic development and health would be establishing comprehensive pollution monitoring done regularly and independantly for all coal areas - mines, transport corridors, ports, coal fired power stations and nearby residential areas - at the expense of the coal industry and make the data publicly available. Read more at Something in the air: time for independent testing in coal areas.

The Coal Terminal Action Group is raising money to monitor coal dust in suburbs between the Hunter Valley coal mines and Newcastle’s port.

Doctors for the Environment in their submission and comment on the Environment Impact statement said :"From the data presented, Newcastle is a polluted town with likely existing health impacts and now we have a proposal that will undoubtedly increase pollution. It is not that Australia needs to make this sacrifice for energy security, as alternatives to burning coal for energy currently exist. Furthermore the morbidity and mortality conferred on the world’s people by the export of this coal would not be insignificant."


is a citizen journalist from Melbourne Australia who has been writing on climate change, science and protests since 2004. This article was originally published at Australia Indymedia

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