A Coal Economy Has Multiple Health and Social Risks, Reveals Major Review


A recent review of evidence on the impact of coal mining has highlighted serious, ongoing health and social problems and an urgent need for improvements in government coal mining policy in Australia. 

Image: http://sydney.edu.au

The research, conducted by the University of Sydney, has also revealed a critical lack of local studies investigating the effect coal mining has on Australian communities.

The report, which analyses 50 peer-reviewed research papers from 10 countries, will be launched at the University this week.

“This comprehensive review of Australian and international health and medical literature underlines the pressing need for Australia to re-evaluate whether the overall health and social costs of Australia’s reliance on a coal economy will ultimately outweigh its economic benefits,” said lead author Associate Professor Ruth Colagiuri, from Sydney Medical School.

Commissioned by Beyond Zero Emissions, the purpose of the report is to provide an overview of the available evidence on the health effects and social justice impacts of coal mining on local communities and relate these issues to the Hunter Region of New South Wales. The Hunter region has more than 30 mostly open-cut coal mines and six active coal-fired power stations, University of Sydney reported.

In studies from coal mining regions of the US, the United Kingdom, Canada, Turkey, Israel, and Asia, an indication of serious health impacts for communities living near coal mines and coal combusting power stations is evident.

“Among the problems identified in children and infants in these communities are impaired growth and neurological development, high blood levels of heavy metals, higher prevalences of any birth defects and a greater chance of being of low birth weight, which is a risk factor for future obesity, diabetes and heart disease,” Associate Professor Colagiuri said.


With differences in mining practices and standards across countries, Professor Colagiuri believes it is hard to imagine that at least some of this evidence would not apply to Australia

“We also urgently need well designed local studies from Australia’s coal areas to generate evidence for the most informed decision possible about the future health of mining communities. The negative impacts we have identified have implications not only for this generation but future ones,” Professor Colagiuri said.