Each step of the coal life cycle — mining, transportation, washing, combustion and disposing of post-combustion wastes — affects human health. In Australia, research is lacking but there is no reason to believe similar effects are not occurring in coal communities here. To deny it would be akin to holding smoking causes lung cancer in the US but doesn’t in Australia.
The health burden of coal in Australia is estimated conservatively at $2.6 billion a year. There are also economic losses due to land pollution and degradation and the open mining of good agricultural land in the face of the projected world food crisis.
David Shearman is emeritus professor of medicine, a practising physician and honorary secretary of Doctors for the Environment Australia.