A study into the relationship between aerial pollutants from unconventional gas mining and health problems on Queensland's Darling Downs was recently reported in the International Journal of Environmental Studies. That report confirms that Northern Rivers residents dodged a massive bullet when people power forced the NSW government to end gas exploration here.
The report is highly critical of the government for allowing “unchecked expansion of unconventional gas companies into the Darling Downs”, with “a remarkable lack of substantive investigation into potential human health impacts”.
The fact that “no baseline environmental studies, human health risk assessments or health studies were undertaken before large-scale extraction took place”, is also criticised as does the failure of state-based research organisations to undertake any substantive research or investigation into the health impacts reported by gas field residents. Those impacts - nosebleeds, rashes, respiratory symptoms, and paraesthesia - were widely reported, with the industry vigorously denying any responsibility.
With no base-line data identifying the cause was always going to be difficult, with one study, the 2010 Australian Research Council's, “A Human Health Risk Assessment for developing CSG water resources in Queensland”, reportedly aborted when the industry partner, Santos, withdrew funding.
US studies have linked an increased rate and severity of asthma attacks, cardiac, neurological, and skin conditions; an increased incidence of congenital heart defects; childhood leukaemia; low birth weight and early infant death with the presence of the unconventional gas industry.
The Darling Downs Hospital and Health Services report that between 2007 and 2014, respiratory admissions rose from 1,247 to 3,051 and circulatory admissions from 2,198 to 5,141.
During that time the combined airborne emissions (kilograms) self-reported by QGC, Origin, Santos, and Arrow, saw the following increases:
Carbon monoxide – 754,000 to 6,800,000.
Nitrogen oxides – 1,704,000 to 10,048,000.
Total Volatile Organic Compounds – 153,400 to 670,600
ParticulateMatter10 – 33,350 to 5,572,422.
Particulate Matter 2.5 – 1,210 to 301,113
Formaldehyde – 25 to 160,420
Sulphur dioxide – 1061 to 12,976
The Northern Rivers dodged the bullet, but other areas, such as the Pilliga, are still fighting for their right to clean air and water.
- John Edwards
This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on February 5, 2018.