OCAA Position Statement 1: Coal Dust

In future posts we will include some different discussion topics and opinion points raised by our members at meetings (and researched with the help of experts), in an effort to balance misinformation such as New Hope’s Community Reference Group February minutes stating ‘There are no health impacts from coal’! Here is OCAA Position Statement 1 about the important topic of coal dust.

Coal dust and its effects.

Coal mining is a dusty business. Excessive dust is produced from heavy vehicle movements, excavating and the massive blasting needed to shift overburden and coal dust blows from trucks, train wagons and stockpiles.

The fine and ultrafine dust particles, known as PM 10 or smaller, cannot be seen but do even more harm than gross visible dust. The World Health Organisation says there are no safe limits for ultrafine particles 1. Oakey and district residents have noticed a marked and unacceptable increase in dust as the mine at Acland has progressively expanded.

Dust spreads kilometres from its source. We hear of many people who live more than 1000 metres from the train line, but their water tank outlets and sides show streaks of black coal dust. This dust also lines house roofs on the side of the rail line and ruins interior and exterior curtains and blinds. Solar panels used to heat water or generate electricity work at suboptimal levels. The number of households affected by dust and noise from trains has been estimated at 40,000 or more along the West Moreton Line from Jondaryan to the Port of Brisbane . In addition within 1 Km of the track there are 160 schools and childcare centres and  over 38,000 children2. This is not acceptable…

If you live near the mine or its coal dump you may notice your cars and furniture may be coated with dust, and attempts at dust removal can lead to scratches or damage. Coal dust contaminates playgrounds and school yards, parks and picnic shelters, as well as our homes.

Health impacts from dust.

Don’t believe the spin that coal dust does not harm health, as of course the industry will say this to enable their mines to operate and expand! Adults in coal mining communities have been found to have higher rates of mortality from lung cancer and chronic heart, respiratory and kidney diseases3. A recent Lancet medical journal study has reported the link between lung cancer and fine particles associated with air pollution4

We can’t put mining profits ahead of the health and wellbeing of our families.

Australia has good clean food- or does it?

Chemicals from mining have the potential to contaminate pastures and enter our food chain via grazing or grain fed animals 5. Coal also releases heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, cadmium, silicon and molybdenum. Coal dust enters our creeks and farmland which are at the head of the Murray Darling System, as well as leaching chemicals into drinking water supplies. The Darling Downs including Acland and Oakey, is some of the best farmland in the country. Australians value our ability to grow clean healthy food and have the potential to be the food bowl for other countries. We think it is excessively stupid to put this good soil and water at risk. There is a place for mining but not at the expense of existing agricultural industry and water supply.

A strong economy depends on a healthy environment

The coal industry threatens the essentials of life – clean water, good health and our food security. These industries can damage farmland and pollute underground water supplies. This in turn threatens our local economy and jobs if the damage continues to impacts long-standing agricultural industries and businesses, like we have seen at Acland, Oakey and district. Mining companies’ priority is to maximise profit and return for shareholders – not put the needs of the local community ahead of making a return for their investors. They only promise ineffective band aid gestures like veneering coal trains, or offer bribes like moving the coal dump at Jondaryan if they are allowed to expand.

Current government regulations and environmental protections are unfortunately weak in protecting  communities like ours from environmental, health and economic damage. It is not fair that mining companies get special treatment. They should never have greater rights than local residents and landholders.

We are way behind other countries in dust standards.

The recent Lancet paper discussed acceptable air quality limits  for the European Union  for PM10 (40 μg/m3) and PM2・5 (25 μg/m3). There is WHO opinion that even these thresholds are too high and levels should be <10 for PM10. New Hope is allowed under QLD Government regulations to pollute Jondaryan air to much higher levels than this as a norm, and even company monitoring shows that on certain days particulate pollution is in the extreme range. This is more serious when you consider that values are determined by averaging data over a 24 hour period, and there is likely to be hourly spikes in pollution at dangerous levels. It is no wonder that the Jondaryan coal dump was discussed at length at the recent Senate Inquiry into Australian Air Quality hearing in Brisbane (6).

What can you do?

We have to hold the Government to their election promise not to allow Stage 3 expansion at Acland. This Government must ensure it protects local communities like ours – their existing industries, residents and landholder rights, their health, the environment and water supplies.

OCAA is fighting to protect our communities and good farmland.

Help us by writing, emailing or ringing our politicians or public servants. Let them know that Oakey does not want more coal trains, trucks, dust, excessive blasting, ruined land and water.

The Queensland Coordinator General, Mr Barry Broe, will make a decision on the mine expansion over the next months. Here is his office’s address:

QLD Coordinator General PO Box 15517, City East, Queensland 4002

Deputy Premier, Mr Jeff Seeney PO Box 559 BILOELA QLD 4715 Phone: 07 4992 2475 or FreeCall 1800 812 119 Fax: 07 4992 3189 Email: callide@parliament.qld.gov.au

The Premier, Mr Campbell Newman.221 Waterworks Road ASHGROVE   QLD 4060 Phone: (07) 3366 6000 Fax: (07) 3366 6202 Email: Ashgrove@parliament.qld.gov.au

Thank you for your support.

OCAA executive


1.WHO Guidelines into Air Quality, 2005

2.SQCHNA  rail corridor brochure, 2013

3.MJA 2011; 195: 333–335 doi10.5694/mja11.10169

4. www.thelancet.com/neurology July10, 2013

5.Bruce et al. Toxicology Letters 137 (2003) and Tiwary Water, Air, and Soil Pollution 2001,