The mining and burning of coal: effects on health and the environment

The Medical Journal of Australia - paper by Dr's Castleden, Shearman, Crisp and Finch

• Australia’s coal conundrum is that all political parties say they are concerned about climate change while sanctioning an unprecedented expansion of coalmining and coal seam gas extraction in Australia.

• Australia’s coal contributes to climate change and its global health impacts.

• Each phase of coal’s lifecycle (mining, disposal of contaminated water and tailings, transportation, washing, combustion, and disposing of postcombustion wastes) produces pollutants that affect human health.

• Communities in which coalmining or burning occurs have been shown to suffer significant health impacts.

• The health and climate costs of coal are unseen, and when costs to health systems are included, coal is an expensive fuel.

Environmental damage, water and health:
Coalmining poses a significant threat to the integrity of aquifers, which may be hydrologically connected to other groundwater-dependent ecosystems including farm dams, bores and rivers. Water from coalmines must be disposed of and waste material is often held within the surface lease of a mine, introducing a risk of contamination of human food sources. Pollution of the environment can also occur through windblown dust during transportation, where coal is washed and at export ports. In 2010, coal seam gas operations in Queensland were held up at two sites because groundwater had become contaminated with a potentially dangerous combination of benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene (BTEX).9 Similar contamination occurred after an underground coal gasification trial near Kingaroy.10 The Queensland government has recently banned BTEX chemicals from coal-bed fracturing fluids.

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