CSG mining health risk

CONCERNED: Dr Wayne Somerville and Dr Rowena Knoesen.
CONCERNED: Dr Wayne Somerville and Dr Rowena Knoesen. Andy Parks

The University Centre for Rural Health hosted a meeting of health professionals in Lismore this week to discuss the potential health effects of the emerging CSG industry.

Among the speakers were clinical psychologist Dr Wayne Somerville and anaesthetist Dr Rowena Knoesen, as well as environmental scientist Boudicca Cerese and solicitor Sue Higginson.

Dr Somerville said the possibility of CSG industry expansion in the region threatened to be the biggest social and psychological trauma Australians had been exposed to since the Vietnam War.

"It's time for health professionals to become health activists," he said.

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and I don't want to spend the next 150 years dealing with the impacts of CSG mining when we can stop it now."

Dr Somerville, a specialist in the effects of trauma, said the mental health impacts of the CSG industry on Queensland communities had already been devastating.

"Farmers who signed secret contracts with gas companies have regretted it. There are stories of farmers who now feel trapped. They don't want to live in a gas field, but they can't sell their property because it's lost value and no one wants to buy it.

"It's a transfer of wealth from farming communities to miners. For farmers, their land value is their superannuation and now anxiety and depression are serious problems in these communities.

"Fully blown gasfields can have wells at 800m intervals and in closely settled rural districts. This could put thousands of people and their livestock at risk of harmful chemicals that gas-off from the compressors or well flares," he said.

Dr Somerville said in the Queensland town of Tara, where people were living in housing estates amongst gas wells, there were well documented reports about the physical and psychological effects of gas mining. "There are reports of skin rashes, uncontrolled bleeding and some people have burns on their skin from bathing in bore water," Dr Somerville said.

"Where there are gas fields, people also are exposed to noise and light pollution 24 hours a day. These areas are very brightly lit and there is a lot of noise from trucks and compression station pumps which has a profound effect on a person's sleep cycle and can prevent them getting into a deep restorative sleep.

"There is well a documented correlation between the psychological and emotional effects of this leading to a heightened anxiety reaction, stress and increased symptoms of depression and irritability."

Dr Rowena Knoesen is a member of Doctors for the Environment Australia and has grave concerns about the CSG industry on the health of not only local communities but also on the people who work on the mines.

"Chemicals used in the fracturing process and mobilised during mining contain many toxic substances which are carcinogenic, mutagenic and allergenic and it may be some time before we start to see all of the acute health effects," she said.

"It could eventually be like asbestos exposure where we didn't appreciate the impact of the effects until much later. It's hard to quantify the real effects on health when the compounds used and produced aren't fully known."

Dr Knoesen said, based on the evidence gathered from areas in America where CSG mining had taken place, agents used in hydraulic fracking fluids could cause disruption to the endocrine system, causing infertility and mutations in foetuses.

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