New report counts high economic costs of health impacts from coal

Climate Health Science[PN: This report on the health costs of coal mining in the Hunter Valley came out a week ago, is worth looking into. Worth remembering that uncovered coal trains go through the middle of Brisbane daily.]

Health leaders call on NSW Premier to ban new coal mines in Hunter
A comprehensive report, released today by a coalition of 28 key health organisations, highlights the serious threats to human health from the rapid expansion of the Hunter coal industry, calculates the burden of this health damage to the economy and, significantly, calls for a ban on new coal projects in the region and an orderly transition away from coal.

High profile figures including former Australians of the Year Professor Fiona Stanley and Professor Tim Flannery and former NASA scientist James Hansen, and 23 other academics and public health experts, have signed an open letter to the NSW Premier (below) demanding the phasing out of coal production in the Hunter.

President of the Climate and Health Alliance, ANU academic Dr Liz Hanna, speaking outside NSW Parliament said, “Coal is responsible for harming the health of communities in the Hunter, and we know when our exported coal is burnt overseas, it contributes to illnesses and deaths. Other governments are moving to protect their health and their air quality. The Baird and Abbott governments have no authority to ignore Australian health risks by licensing new coal in NSW and pledging ongoing support for the coal industry.”

The Climate and Health Alliance’s report, Coal and health in the Hunter: Lessons from one valley for the world, quantifies the costs to the local and global economy from health damage, and recommends: reform of NSW planning laws to better manage health risks, new health studies and stricter air quality standards.

The report estimates the health costs from coal to the economy to include: $600m pa from pollution from the five Hunter coal fired power stations, $65.3 million pa from fine particle pollution from coal mines and power stations in Singleton and Muswellbrook, and $13 million pa from air pollution from coal sources in Newcastle. It estimates wider global impacts (the ‘social cost of carbon’) associated with Hunter Valley coal at $16-66 billion pa.

“The coal mined, burned and transported in the Hunter is exposing residents to harmful air, noise and water pollution and causing serious physical and psychological illnesses and deaths,” said Dr Hanna. “A stark example is the tiny town of Camberwell, now edged on three sides by open cut mines, which has higher rates of harmful air pollution than suburbs such as Rozelle in Sydney’s inner west.”

The experience of six generation farmer Wendy Bowman, in her late 70s and one of the last remaining residents of Camberwell, is one case study documented in the report. Diagnosed with ‘dust in the lung’, Mrs Bowman explained, “Local children suffer chronic respiratory illnesses from the mines, with some so ill they miss weeks of school every year. Why is the government encouraging industries that actively harm us? It’s not right.”

“There is a massive toll on communities, that are being ripped apart by mining, with people displaced from their homes, while our wonderful Hunter soils and river systems are degraded,” Mrs Bowman said.

Ecolarge Senior Economist Francis Grey said, “This report highlights the costs being borne by NSW taxpayers in health damages in local communities and by the global community in climate damages. The NSW government is putting mining royalties and the profits of multinational mining companies before the community’s health.

“Coal is losing us jobs in other sectors, and getting in the way of investment and jobs in other industries. Coal is not the panacea for the national economy that industry lobbyists and governments would have us believe.

“This evidence demands support for growing new industries and shifting to renewable energy infrastructure to ensure the Hunter maintains a healthy economy, continues to provide jobs for locals, and protects the natural assets for which the region was once famous,” Mr Grey said.

Dr Hanna concluded, “Propping up and expanding the coal industry makes no health sense and no economic sense. It should stop.”

Media contact and report author: Fiona Armstrong 0438 900 005.

A series of media resources is available at:

  • The report: Coal and health in the Hunter: Lessons from one valley for the world
  • Summary for policymakers
  • Recommendations for action
  • Case studies and short videos featuring people from coal affected communities

Summary of report recommendations:

  • A ban on new coal projects in the Hunter Valley
  • Development of a transition plan to assist the region develop new industries as coal is phased out
  • Stronger regulation of any projects in the planning pipeline to adequately evaluate and limit health, climate, and environmental damages
  • Stricter air quality standards and monitoring of all coal sources, with data publicly available
  • Increased consultation with communities affected by coal projects
  • Implementation of mandatory health impact assessments as part of all project assessment processes still in the planning phase
  • Comprehensive health research studies to evaluate: the environmental health risks faced by local communities from exposure to pollutants associated with the coal industry, and the social impacts associated with disruption to communities, to landscapes, ecosystems and other industries.

An Open Letter to the NSW Premier calling for an end to coal projects in the Hunter Valley

Cc Minister for Health, Minister for Resources and Energy, Minister for Planning and Environment

We, the undersigned, call on the NSW Government not to approve any new coal projects in the Hunter Valley.

The health of the community and the social and environmental values of the Hunter Valley are being damaged by the increasing coal production in the region.

People’s health is at risk from declining air quality associated with coal mining, transportation and combustion. The illnesses and deaths associated with air pollution from coal in the region are potentially costing taxpayers millions of dollars each year.

The lives of individuals, families and communities and the social fabric of the region’s villages and towns are being disrupted by the acquisition of land for coal mining.

The quality of surface and underground water and integrity of soil on important food producing land is being put at risk from pollutants associated with coal mining in the Valley.

The huge volume of greenhouse gases produced from the combustion of Hunter Valley coal is contributing to dangerous changes to the local, national and global climate, and is responsible for billions of dollars worth of harm each year globally – from damage to people’s health, degradation of ecosystems, and loss of biodiversity.

The continued production of coal in the Hunter Valley prevents the development of alternative industries, that are healthier and safer for the local community and do not cause global harm.

It is time to begin to phase out coal production in the Hunter Valley and begin a transition to a safer, healthier, and secure economic future.


Professor Tim Flannery, Climate Council, Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists

Professor Fiona Stanley, Distinguished Research Professor, School of Paediatrics and Child Health, University of Western Australia

Professor Lesley Hughes, Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University

Professor James Hansen, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University

Professor Colin Butler, Australian Research Council Future Fellow, Faculty of Health, University of Canberra

Dr Peter Tait, Convenor, Ecology and Environment Special Interest Group, Public Health Association of Australia

Dr Liz Hanna, Fellow, National Centre for Epidemiology & Population Health, Australian National University and President, Climate and Health Alliance

Associate Professor Nick Higginbotham, University of Newcastle, NSW

Associate Professor Peter Sainsbury, School of Public Health, Sydney University

Dr Bret Hart, Public Health Physician, WA

Dr Brad Farrant, Senior Research Officer, Telethon Kids Institute

Dr Elizabeth Haworth, Clinical Senior Lecturer, Menzies Institute for Medical Research, University of Tasmania

Associate Professor Melissa Haswell, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, UNSW

Dr Helen Redmond, Rehabilitation Physician and Conjoint Lecturer, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, UNSW

Mr Michael Moore, CEO, Public Health Association of Australia, President-elect, World Federation of Public Health Associations

Dr Jude Page, President, NSW Branch, Public Health Association of Australia

Emeritus Professor David Shearman, University of Adelaide, Honorary Secretary, Doctors for the Environment, Australia

Dr George Crisp, WA Committee, Doctors for the Environment, Australia

Associate Professor Linda Selvey, School of Public Health, Curtin University

Associate Professor Adrian Barnett, Principal Research Fellow, Faculty of Health, Queensland University of Technology

Professor Lidia Morawska, Science and Engineering Faculty, Queensland University of Technology

Associate Professor Ruth Colagiuri, School of Public Health, University of Sydney

Emily Morrice, Health and Sustainability Unit, the Boden Institute, University of Sydney

Professor Kingsley Faulkner, Chair, Doctors for the Environment, Australia

Coral Levett, President, New South Wales Nurses and Midwives’ Association

Judith Kiejda, 
Assistant General Secretary, New South Wales Nurses and Midwives’ Association

Fiona Armstrong, Convenor Climate and Health Alliance, Fellow, Centre for Policy Development, Associate, Melbourne Sustainable Societies Institute, University of Melbourne


One thought on “New report counts high economic costs of health impacts from coal

  1. The coal industry is a net loss to the Australian economy as I doubt if royalties will cover the external costs quoted, even at the lower range of $16b annually.

    Coal was only 3.1 percent of GDP 2011/12 (Minerals Council of Aust figures).

    Time to shut it down and spend the money on developing other industry sectors.


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