The Health Impact of Opencast Mining
The mining companies that make huge profits from opencast mining invest heavily in ‘PR’ campaigns, emphasising the supposed positive local impact of their operations. But there is strong evidence that opencast mining has the potential to affect adversely the health of those unfortunate enough to live nearby, notably children, the elderly and people with existing illnesses. Here’s a summary of the potential negative health effects of opencast mining (because you won’t be hearing about them from the mining companies).
1. Opencast mining has a negative impact on air quality. The process involves substantial drilling, blasting and transportation of overburden, all of which result in the discharge of ﬁne particulates. The processes of excavating, waste removal, transportation loading and stockpiling of coal all produce further particulate matter.
2. Exposure to air pollution can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, contribute to or cause respiratory diseases and is also linked to cardiovascular disease, in addition to a rise in hospital admissions.
3. The Government’s Committee on Medical Effects of Air Pollution (COMEAP) states that there are clear associations between both daily and long term exposure to air pollution and cardiovascular system disorders, including increased hospital admissions and premature death, concluding that many of these effects are likely to be causal and, in the interests of public health, recommends applying a precautionary approach to planning.
4. DEFRA’s June 2005 report, “Particulate Matter in the United Kingdom” highlights the relationship between both short and long-term exposure to particulates and respiratory and cardiovascular illness and mortality (as well as other health effects), and the causal nature of these effects. The report also suggests that there it is no safe threshold. DEFRA identiﬁed particularly susceptible subgroups as those with pre-existing lung, heart or other disease, the elderly and children.
5. The work of Pless-Mulloli (1999/2003, relied on by COMEAP) concluded that children in opencast communities were exposed to a signiﬁcant amount of additional particulates to which opencast sites were a measurable contributor, and that GP consultations for respiratory conditions were higher in opencast communities during the core study period. Temple and Sykes (1992) found a sustained and sudden change in new episodes of asthma from the time that a South Wales mine began excavation.
6. In 2004, the World Health Organisation advised that there is “no safe level” of ﬁne particulate air pollution. Its report found signiﬁcant associations between small particulate exposure and disease; it also identiﬁed in children an association between air pollution and infection. It concluded that reducing air pollution could improve children’s health.