Climate & Health Alliance: Coal and Health in the Hunter
This report released in February 2015 by the Climate and Health Alliance details some of the noise and vibration related adverse health impacts of open cut coal mining in the Upper Hunter region of New South Wales. Night time mining associated noise is a significant problem for the residents in the Upper Hunter region because of the predictable impacts on sleep.
4.1.2 Noise pollution Extracts from p 24 (p 26/68 of the pdf version of the report)
” As well as being an occupational hazard for miners, the noise and light from mining operations (many of them 24-hour operations) can disrupt lives and interfere with the sleep of people living in communities close to mines. The health impacts of noise are not addressed in the current assessment framework used to determine whether mine proposals are approved.
Mining activities such as blasting, drilling and digging, coal loading, the operations of excavators, trucks, conveyor belts and other machinery all contribute to elevated levels of environmental noise. Alongside other impacts such as loss of visual amenity, and social disruption (see next section), noise can lead to a stress response that can adversely affect people’s health and sense of wellbeing and impair quality of life.
The recommended maximum for industrial noise in New South Wales is 75 decibels, however many coal mines are allowed higher limits which vary according to their licence conditions. For some mines, this is as high as 120 decibels.
Particularly given the expectation of quiet surroundings in a rural environment, the application of an industrial noise policy in the region is inappropriate. Explosions at some sites such as Integra’s Camberwell mine exceed 120 decibels. Local people complain regularly about noise at Rio Tinto’s Mount Thorley Warkworth mine near Bulga, where noise regularly exceeds the limit by more than five decibels. This mine attracted 800 noise complaints in 2012 118 but has not led to any change in the mine licence conditions. Given plans to significantly expand this mine, locals are very concerned about the impact of noise on the physical and mental health of the community.
Bulga resident John Krey says the noise from the nearby mines at Mount Thorley and Warkworth is “extremely disruptive”. “It makes sitting outside impossible, with noise akin to an airplane continuously overhead. Blasting from the mine shakes the house, and the noise of the machinery at the mine, which works 24 hours a day, is loud enough to wake us up at night.””
Extract from page 46 (or 48/68 pdf numbering of the report) on the adverse social impacts
“The destruction of communities through property acquisition and attrition as people leave for a cleaner, quieter environment is one of mining’s little acknowledged ‘social harms’.
This social and psychological disruption is a significant health impact, and one that is, according to public health physician Dr Craig Dalton, likely to have a “far greater impact than the current particulate levels”.”
Extracts from page 50 (0r 52/68 pdf numbering of the report) on noise impacts at Bulga
“John Krey is a local resident and the former Chair of the Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association. He helped lead the legal challenge and says the community is now back to where it was four years ago.
“We’ve got two court cases behind us now, both of which said the mine extension shouldn’t go ahead. But the New South Wales government has made new amendments to the planning laws which mean the project will be approved. Now the value of the resources is the only consideration – the impacts on the community or ecology are irrelevant. The government has removed all the impediments to getting this approved.”
Mr Krey says the noise from the existing mines at Bulga is extremely disruptive for residents. It makes sitting outside impossible, due to sounds like “an airplane continuously overhead”. Blasting from the mine “shakes the house”.
The noise of machinery at the mine, which works 24 hours a day, wakes people at night. For people who came to Bulga to enjoy the peacefulness of the bush, the constant intrusion is upsetting and disruptive.
According to Mr Krey’s monitoring, the noise levels exceed the New South Wales industrial noise policy for the two mines.
When locals are able to get the relevant government department (in this case the Department of Planning) to respond to their concerns, an offer to send a consultant to monitor noise invariably occurs during a week when the mine is quiet, he says.
It’s not just the noise that is upsetting, it is knowing the noise levels are being exceeded and that no-one will enforce them.
“The mine will work to the limits of its approvals – we accept that, but when the body that is supposed to be monitoring them refuses to do so, that is not acceptable,” he said.”
“The mining industry is not interested in addressing the concerns of local residents, he says, but even more demoralising for local residents is the unwillingness of the government to control their activities.
Another member of the Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association, John Lamb, says this makes people angry and frustrated, and leads to negative impacts on people’s mental health.
“It’s the loss of control over our environment that is the most difficult. We came here to enjoy the peacefulness of the bush. Now there’s continuous noise, plus the blasting – they shake the house and wake you up.”
John Krey’s wife Leslie says: “It’s wrong that citizens should be forced to experience the emotional fall out from mining – the loss of amenity, the loss of quality of life, the loss of the future.” ”