The environmental impacts of coal mining are well known but coal dust also poses a very real threat to human health.
It can lead to irreversible lung damage and exacerbates conditions like asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. The mining, transportation and combustion of coal can lead to serious health impacts not only for workers but for the surrounding communities as well.
There is very little publicly available data on the levels of coal dust particulates polluting our air so traditionally it has been hard to identify strong causal links in Australia between symptoms and exposure to coal dust.
Port Augusta in South Australia, for example, is wedged between two coal-fired power stations and residents there suffer from elevated rates of respiratory conditions and lung cancer. They have every right to be concerned.
The health impacts of coal have been ignored for too long and it’s time to have a detailed at look at the evidence. Last year I secured a Senate Inquiry into the health impacts of air quality and it is now up and running.
I hope that the inquiry will hold public hearings in communities that are dealing with the biggest impacts from air pollution, such as: Port Augusta in South Australia, the Hunter in NSW, Brisbane in Queensland and the La Trobe Valley in Victoria.
Protecting the health of Australians should be of paramount importance to the parliament. The other parties can’t afford to ignore the health impacts of coal any longer.
For more information on the inquiry visit http://greensmps.org.au/airquality
Dr Richard Di Natale is the Australian Greens health spokesperson.