This guest post by Randolph Wild of Newcastle follows our story Sick of coal. Randolph’s background is mainly in architecture and furniture design. He works in a state government office and specialises in managing projects in local public schools. Randolph hosted one of the monitors used in Coal Terminal Action Group’s Coal Dust in Our Suburbs air quality monitoring study. The rally against the construction of T4 is at 10am this Saturday 16 March.
In 2002 my partner and I made the decision to resettle in Newcastle in preparation for the birth of our second child. That decision was made in part because of our growing concerns about the impacts of longterm exposure to Sydney’s poor air quality. Moving from Sydney we had very little idea what to expect in Tighes Hill, the Newcastle suburb we moved to. We assumed we were moving to a place where the air would be cleaner and our family safer.
On our first night in our new home, we were greeted with a boom and clanking so loud that we all woke up and went to the windows to see what all the noise and vibration was about. This was our first experience of the coal trains.
We subsequently discovered that this type of disturbance at night is what the good people of Tighes Hill have been dealing with on a regular basis for decades.
Over the years living in our house by the railway line, we endeavoured to monitor the sound of the trains and the amount of dust on (and in) our house and in particular on our solar panels. We registered complaints with the rail track authorities, resulting in little more than a registration number. We publicised the issue in the local press and lobbied our local state members, ALP and Liberal. With no improvement in the situation, it was with regret that we moved. Because Tighes Hill is such a nice community and is affordable, it has become an attractive place for young families and for this reason we decided to stay in the area (but away from the train tracks).
At our new address, we’ve continued to lobby for better air quality. We had dust monitors installed in our backyard and were shocked to discover that on five of the seven days monitored, we had exceedances of the national standard for PM10 dust particles in the air. This coal dust is particularly harmful for small children and people with respiratory problems. Reality has struck home, once again. And we’re left with a dilemma – stay put or move on, stay and risk our children’s health or leave and forfeit the strong community bonds we’ve made.
People say to us, ‘you moved into the area with full knowledge of the pollution from the coal industry’. But this isn’t entirely true. The coal industry has been expanding their operations over the years, the noise and dust are getting worse. It’s only recently become apparent how dangerous the effects of inhaling coal dust are and surely the responsibility does not just lie with individual citizens to try to improve their local area. Industry and government agencies need to take responsibility for putting coal dust into our suburbs.
It’s totally irresponsible of the authorities to consider the development of a fourth coal terminal at Kooragang (less than a kilometre away). This terminal would facilitate the doubling of coal exports from Newcastle. The authorities should stop this development. Controlling dust that comes off the coal wagons and stockpiles is an obvious first step but much needs to be done to resolve this untenable situation. Further monitoring should be carried out on dust levels in areas around the coal loaders and coal rail lines. We deserve to know what’s in the air we breathe. Surely this is a basic human right, for our children to have the opportunity to grow up healthily.
The March Lamp magazine also has articles about the impact of coal on the Hunter community – with Newcastle nurses joining the campaign and a local GP conducting a study into the affect of coal dust on children’s health – with the alarming finding that one in six local children had diminished lung function.