Not Enough Studies on Coal Mining Impact Shifts Focus on NSW’s Hunter Region

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By Esther Tanquintic-Misa | October 29, 2012 1:57 PM EST

The coal mining industry in Australia's Hunter Valley region in New South Wales is now  the focus of debates as Australian health experts clamored for a health impact study following international evidence which stated that Australia lacked research that studied the possible ill effects of coal mining in the communities.

According to a research by the University of Sydney, which examined research papers from 10 countries, including China, the United States and the United Kingdom, it found that coal mining regions lacked studies that laid down the potential effects of coal mining, as evidenced by the rising number of cancer, heart, lung and kidney disease and birth defects in the communities in those countries that live near coal mines and power plants.

Associate Professor Ruth Colagiuri, the study's lead author, opined that communities around Australia's Hunter Valley region, which has more than 30 mostly open-cut coal mines and six active coal-fired power stations, could be experiencing the same.

"Although there are differences in mining practices and standards across countries that may account for some of this excess death and illness, it is hard to imagine that at least some of this evidence would not apply to Australia," Ms Colagiuri said.

The report, commissioned by Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE), found that children and infants in these communities are suffering from impaired growth and neurological development, contained high blood levels of heavy metals, with higher prevalence of birth defects and a greater chance of being of low birth weight, a potential risk factor for future obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Adults in these communities, meanwhile, were found to have higher rates of death from lung cancer and chronic heart, respiratory and kidney diseases. Increased chances of developing other cancers and hypertension are also high. Some studies also show higher rates of miscarriages and stillbirths.

"With plans for 30 new or bigger coal mines, an independent authority is urgently needed to monitor emissions in the region and for an in-depth health study to take place," Mark Ogge from BZE, said in a statement on Monday.

Cancer Council Australia's Ian Olver likewise supported the immediate conduct of health impact studies in the Hunter region.

"It is difficult not to assume there are serious problems in the Hunter that remain hidden and a thorough impact study is clearly needed," he said.

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