Coal train increase could encourage coronavirus, council candidates urged to oppose move

Published: March 25, 2020

Community health advocacy group Clean Air Queensland has called on Brisbane City Council candidates to oppose a controversial plan to significantly increase coal train movements through Brisbane.

The Queensland Palaszczuk Government is assessing a planned expansion of New Hope Group’s New Acland coal mine which, if approved, could lead to a substantial increase of coal train movements through Brisbane suburbs.

The call comes as the Covid-19 crisis continues to grow in Queensland, and David King from Doctors for the Environment said, “Hypothetically air pollution will increase risk of contracting Covid-19, as the mortality is higher in smokers, and exposure to particles and gases act to cause inflammatory reactions in the airways. However, we don't have definitive proof of this link yet.”

CAQ has also compiled a spreadsheet (attached) with data showing 40,000 school students could be impacted by the increased coal shipping, due to numerous schools being within close proximity to the rail line. 

The Brisbane suburbs where coal trains travel through include Yeronga, Corinda, Fairfield, Annerley, Sherwood, Wooloongabba, Greenslopes, Stones Corner, Buranda, Dutton Park, East Brisbane, Coorparoo, Norman Park, Cannon Hill, Morningside, Murarrie, and Wynnum.

CAQ spokesperson Paul Stephenson said the group had already begun reaching out to council candidates, including mayoral candidates, to determine their level of opposition to the increase in coal train movements.

The group will compile the results and issue a scorecard showing candidates' position to share with voters and community-members.

"Coal dust is a toxic form of air pollution which negatively impacts health through increased risk of asthma, respiratory illnesses, heart attack and death,” Mr Stephenson said. 

"The communities of inner-city Brisbane are suffering the negative health effects of a dirty polluting industry while the owners of the project profit." 

Existing approvals at the New Acland coal mine allow for up to 4.8 million tonnes per annum of coal to be mined, while the proposed new expansion of the mine would increase this figure to 7.5mtpa.

“It is indefensible to expand the use of coal trains through inner-city Brisbane when we know that this increased air pollution will damage peoples’ health and threaten the lives of the elderly, sick and vulnerable.

"It is time for the Brisbane City Council candidates to let their constituents know their position on whether they will support their rights to clean air and good health.”

Mr Stephenson pointed to examples where local councils in the USA and in Taiwan had acted decisively to stop coal trains from passing through their inner-city jurisdictions.

"It is well within the powers of the council to act on this issue. Councilors have a clear political and moral imperative to ensure the protection of their local communities' lives and wellbeing."

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