Health impacts of Coal Seam Gas

Australian Unconventional Gas: the Health Risks

BSA is concerned that there has not been enough research into, or genuine understanding of, the health risks surrounding CSG development. BSA urges the coal seam gas industry and Government to take heed of the following statements made by the AMA.

The Australian Medical Association believes that:

  • all existing coal seam gas extraction projects should be regularly monitored for any health effects and the presence of air and ground water pollutants in their local environment;
  • all future proposals for coal seam gas mining should be subject to rigorous and independent health risk assessments, which take into account the potential for exposure to pollutants through air and ground water and any likely associated health risks;
  • in circumstances where there is insufficient evidence to ensure safety, the precautionary principle should apply; and
  • these initiatives should apply to all unconventional gas extraction, including shale gas.

As of February 2015 none of these recommendations have been implemented by any state in Australia. The AMA’s position is taken because the extraction of unconventional gas, including coal seam, tight and shale gas results in the emission into the environment via air, soil and water of significant quantities of toxic chemicals. See the Nation Pollution Inventory for estimated emissions>

Health risks may be associated with all stages of CSG extraction:
exploration, production and post-production. The adverse health outcomes may include respiratory, cardiovascular, genitourinary and digestive diseases, skin problems, cancer, injuries, hormonal disruption, fertility and reproductive effects. The medical conditions resulting from chemical toxin exposure can have long latency periods. These conditions may not be evident for years and will depend on the duration of exposure, dose, and other factors. A higher incidence of asthma, cancers, heart disease, and the effects of endocrine disruption on developing foetuses and children only become evident over time. There has been no Australian research into the health impacts of unconventional gas production, only paper reviews which concluded that more research must be done.  and

However BSA is concerned that it seems that the industry’s business practices of commercial in confidence and confidentiality agreements have effectively stopped quality independent health research. This serious impediment was noted by Professor Madelon Finkel, Professor of Clinical Healthcare Policy and Research, Weill Cornell Medical College, USA at a forum at Sydney University late 2014 where she said

“…further investigation is needed to better understand what is going on. But, complicating matters is the effect of gag orders or non-disclosure agreements landowners have to sign. These legal documents prohibit individuals from talking about the effect gas mining is having on their health and well-being as well as that for their livestock and animals. This makes conducting an epidemiological study quite difficult”.

Professor Finkel is a world leader in the epidemiological research of health impacts and unconventional gas production. The Queensland and NSW governments have no requirement for CSG production to meet any Health Impact criteria after production commences nor is there a Health Impact Assessment before mining approval. In Queensland residents living close to CSG production infrastructure and transport corridors have raised concerned about their health problems. As a result, the public health unit has been collecting data in the Western Downs region.

This study also called for further investigation and information: “To better assess whether these reported symptoms could be related to exposure to CSG activities, comprehensive information on air, water and soil contaminants, as well as an evaluation of the level of noise currently experienced needs to be obtained.”

BSA feels that at this point in time (Feb 2015) neither Qld Health and the DEHP have responded in a manner which would provide confidence nor assurance of safety to the public. Recent submissions to the Senate Inquiry into aspects of Qld Government administration and many of the concerns are outlined by real people living on at the ‘coal face’.

View the Submissions>

This issue cannot be ignored.