More than 30 Hunter doctors are among 100 people who have signed a joint letter calling on the ministers for health and environment to visit and take action on improving air quality in the region.
The letter also calls for action to make the coal mining industry pay for the damage caused by its air pollution.
Singleton general practitioners Tuan Au and Robert Vickers, supported by 32 doctors from Newcastle, Gloucester and other parts of the Hunter, say poor air quality is damaging people’s health.
“Air pollution from the coal mines is harming people,” Dr Au, who has been researching the health effects of coal mining for more than 10 years, said on Wednesday.
“We’re not sure people outside the region understand how bad the situation is and so we are asking the ministers to come and meet with people here and talk about how to clear the air.”
The Newcastle Herald reported in April that the region’s 10 most polluting coal mines released 61 million kilograms of coarse particle PM10 emissions in 2017, a two per cent increase on the previous year, despite state government assurances that emission-reduction measures were working.
National Pollutant Inventory data released in April by the federal government showed the Hunter’s 10 most polluting coal mines were Hunter Valley Operations, Mount Arthur, Mount Thorley Warkworth, Ravensworth, Bengalla, Bulga, Liddell, Wambo, Mount Owen and the Glendell & Ravensworth East mine.
“When there are spikes in PM10 there is a decline in health of local residents, particularly those with asthma, heart and lung disease,” Dr Vickers said.
“The number of spikes we have seen recently show that the government is not holding up its responsibility to maintain air pollution standards, and our population is the one suffering.
“In one week of August we had five days straight of what the EPA consider poor air quality.”
The doctors said eight Hunter air-quality monitoring stations showed repeated breaches this year of national pollution standards for daily average concentrations of coarse particle pollution.
Doctors for the Environment Australia spokesperson John van der Kallen said the Hunter did not have “basic measures” such as keeping mines a minimum distance from residential areas.
“New action from the NSW government to clear the air and make the mining industry pay for the cost of pollution has stalled, but mining continues to expand close to villages, towns and schools,” he said.
“It’s got to stop.”