Inquiry wants a black lung buffer zone to protect people

The inquiry into black lung wants the government to review buffer zones for communities like that at Hay Point which live near coal facilities.
The inquiry into black lung wants the government to review buffer zones for communities like that at Hay Point which live near coal facilities. Peter Holt

BUFFER zones between Hay Point coal terminals and homes would better protect those residents from black lung and other diseases.

These zones were one of a wave of recommendations in a report from the State Government's Black Lung Inquiry released Friday, that included calling on the Minister for Local Government to review buffers zones around coal ports, rail corridors and quartz quarries.

The report was in favour of buffer zones like the 2km needed between a coal mine and residential community.

Louisa Creek resident Betty Hobbs, who has lived about 800m from Hay Point for the past 40 years, said it was simply too late.

She was concerned all this would mean is the Louisa Creek community of about 13 residents would have to move out for the sake of the ports.

Mrs Hobbs said the buffer zone should have been introduced when they were building the ports next door to the established community which had been settled at Louisa Creek for more than 100 years.

"It is just such a beautiful area, the beach is clean, it is quiet, there is no vandalism and very few cars burn up the middle of the road," she said.

"If they buy us all out and turn it into a buffer zone there is always the potential to turn it into an industrial estate which won't be good for the native bush and native animals."

But the inquiry also held concerns about the health of the residents that lived near coal facilitates as it looked past its original scope of coal miners' health.

It called on the government to review the health implications on communities living near coal ports, railways and quarries and introduce more air monitoring devices around Queensland.

Betty Hobbs' neighbour, Cathy Fredericks said they had been reassured the coal dust levels were within safe limits, but admitted it was still a concern.

"Nobody knows, no one really knows for sure - they thought you couldn't get black lung from open cut mines but look what happened," she said.

"I have been sucking it in every day since I moved here (more than 20 years ago)."

She stopped short of saying there was still coal dust drifting into her home but said it was a lot better than it once was.

"(Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay) do try and pull out all of the stops and I know they are spending a lot of money to keep the coal dust down," she said. "I have to give them credit but when its windy we still get coal dust."

A spokesperson for North Queensland Bulk Ports said the Port of Hay Point terminals operated under strict commonwealth and state environmental licence conditions.

"NQBP, in partnership with terminal operators, has a world class dust monitoring program which includes recording all emissions including from vehicles and machinery," the spokesperson said.

"Additionally, in 2013, NQBP joined with Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal and Hay Point Coal Terminal to commission the Port of Hay Point Coal Dust Study.

"The study, which was completed in 2015, differed to the existing monitoring programs and previous studies, in that it examined the make-up of the dust in the region, rather than monitor the levels of dust.

"A key finding was that the dust levels at community sites around the port did not exceed National Ambient Air Quality Standards."

A BHP spokesperson said the company, which owns and operates Hay Point Coal Terminal, was assessing the recommendations released by the inquiry on Friday.

Topics:  black lung disease coal dust hay point coal terminal state government

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