Anti-CSG campaigner Michael McNamara has demanded mandatory health assessments of all CSG projects after north coast health authorities admitted it has no official role in the process.
In response to a call from Lock the Gate’s Mr McNamara last week to instigate baseline health testing ahead of any CSG activity on the northern rivers, the Northern NSW Local Health District said it had ‘no regulatory role in the approval process’ which was overseen by the NSW planning and resources departments rather than the health department, and in fact, left responsibility of the risk assessment itself to the development proponent.
Mr McNamara said baseline testing would help identify any health problems associated with CSG and avoid the pitfalls currently being experienced around the Tara gas fields in Queensland where the cause of emerging health issues like skin rashes and nose bleeds can’t be attributed as no prior health assessments exist with which to compare statistics.
While the local health district said it was committed to ensuring health risks were ‘properly assessed prior to any CSG mining developments being approved’, it fell short of taking a leading role.
‘To say that baseline testing “may” be an option is inadequate to say the least,’ Mr McNamara said.
‘Baseline testing of water and other environmental factors along with impact assessments in these areas, and community health impact assessments should be a mandatory requirement of any proponent of a CSG development.
‘While I welcome the generally positive response to our call on the local health board to take a stand, I would have expected a stronger and more positive response from the body charged with looking after the health of people living in the Northern Rivers.’
The local health district spokesperson added that the health department could comment on ‘publically exhibited production development applications’, and was represented on the NSW CSG Working Group and provided input to the NSW CSG Working Group.
‘The NSW Ministry of Health continues to advocate strongly for human health issues to be considered as part of a whole of government approach,’ the spokesperson said.
Mr McNamara’s call for adequate health assessment of CSG projects followed similar calls by the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and Doctors for the Environment last month, as well as the local district’s counterpart, the South West Sydney Local Health District (SWSLHD) in January.
Mr McNamara believes that given the extent of proposed CSG development on the northern rivers, the Northern NSW Local Health District had a responsibility to get involved, at least to the extent of SWSLHD chief executive Amanda Larkin who spoke out calling for a comprehensive assessment of the potential risks to human health.
‘A comprehensive assessment would be required to establish the full range of potential health risks, which may include risks associated with air pollution, ground and surface water contamination and noise,’ the health agency told Fairfax Media at the time.
‘The information available does not allow a comprehensive assessment of potential risks to human health.’
The AMA released two policy resolutions last month urging governments to firstly, ensure that: ‘all existing coal seam gas extraction projects were regularly monitored for any health impacts and the presence of air and ground-water pollutants in their local environment’, and secondly that: ‘all future coal seam gas projects to 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’.
AMA President Steve Hambleton said that despite the rapid expansion of CSG developments, the health impacts had not been adequately researched, and effective regulations to protect public health were not in place.