A MERRIWA vet and cattle farmer says it’s time governments took the cumulative impact of heavy metal emissions from coalmines and power stations on people’s health seriously.
A long-term study of heavy metal levels in cattle might be the answer, Ted Finnie said.
‘‘Particulate matter emissions from coalmines is known to contain relatively high levels of heavy metals and other toxic or carcinogenic compounds, with unknown consequences for human and animal health, and the environment,’’ he said.
‘‘My concern is that the figures are there, but nobody’s done any work on it.’’
National Pollutant Inventory toxic substance emissions in the Muswellbrook and Singleton areas, compared with other parts of the state, were deeply concerning, he said.
While aluminium smelters like Tomago were known for the high levels of fluoride compounds emitted – 300,000kg in 2012-13 – it was surprising that Bayswater and Liddell power stations near Muswellbrook produced more than 720,000kg of air-borne fluoride compounds in the same period, Mr Finnie said.
Newcastle city registered just 0.55kg of fluoride, and Dubbo 8.3kg, in the same period.
Fluoride compounds were just one of a large number of toxic substances that industries had to report once emissions passed certain levels.
Hydrogen fluoride, produced by coal-fired power stations, can irritate the eyes, nose and throat if inhaled.
It can also cause environmental problems at critical loads due to acid rain.
The community was entitled to a response from government because of the unknown impact of decades of high emissions of heavy metals caused by the concentration of open-cut coalmines and coal-fired power stations, Mr Finnie said.
He presented a representative from Cessnock MP Joel Fitzgibbon’s office with a proposal for a long-term study of heavy metal levels in cattle, using mature cattle who have lived within 10km of an open-cut mine, and other mature cattle who have lived at least 100km from a mine.
Mr Fitzgibbon did not respond to a request for comment.
Hunter New England Health said the National Pollutant Inventory provided an estimated amount of certain chemicals released into the atmosphere due to industrial activity.
‘‘As a result of local topography and weather patterns, there is no reliable correlation between the estimated quantity of chemicals released into the atmosphere and the quality of the air,’’ it said.