Australia’s Hunter Valley could leave taxpayers with annual health bills running into the hundreds of millions of dollars and further mine expansion should be halted, a report released by 28 health groups Monday shows.
According to the study produced by doctors on behalf of the Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA), the annual health costs caused by pollution from the area’s five coal-fired power stations and the valley’s coal mines is almost US$470 million a year (A$600 million).
The figure, estimated by Economists at Large, is based on the health costs and lost productivity from respiratory problems, such as asthma, and cardiac issues caused by coal dust particles released into the atmosphere.
The report also analyzed the impacts of other chemicals, including release from blasts at the region’s mostly open-cut mines, noise and water pollution, which also undermine the health of residents.
The Hunter Valley produces about 145 million tonnes of coal a year, 126 million tonnes of which is exported, and the remainder burnt in the region’s power stations.
The report notes that on current projections, coal production will expand to 243 million tonnes by 2022, requiring a 50 per cent increase in coal trains and resulting in a further rise in coal dust problems for residents along the valley and in Newcastle.
A 2014 report for the NSW Minerals Council estimated Hunter coal contributes in total $6.3 billion annually to the state’s economy, or almost half of the total mining industry’s output in the state. The region’s coal industry also employed more than 18,000 people.