BATHURST Community Climate Action Network (BCCAN) was recently invited to speak at the NSW Parliamentary inquiry into the costs of remediation of sites containing coal ash repositories.
Coal ash seems a long way away, hidden, someone's problem, but, the more research we did in preparation, the more important the issue seemed to be.
According to ABC reports, each year Australian coal-fired power stations produce the equivalent of 500 kilograms of coal ash for every Australian; 18 per cent of Australia's total waste stream!
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The ash is contaminated with heavy metal 'nasties' including selenium, chromium, mercury, cadmium, arsenic and lead and is dumped in massive unsealed pits near the power stations.
So, after heavy rain, it can leach into underground water systems or overflow polluting waterways. For example, partly as a result of the coal-fired power stations on the shores of Lake Macquarie, in 2018, health authorities advised against eating mud crabs caught in the lake due to their high levels of cadmium.
Our nearest coal ash dump is at Mount Piper - far enough away to be outside our consciousness, but in hot weather, when the ash piles dry out, when the summer easterlies come, it is only 50 kilometres as the coal ash flies.
Exposure to coal ash is linked to asthma, heart disease, cancer, respiratory diseases and stroke.
In Japan, 97pc of coal ash is extracted and refined for aluminium production and in concrete, for example, but in Australia, most of it accumulates and will still be there decades after the power stations close.
These costs from coal ash dumping are high and mostly paid by taxpayers and ratepayers.
Prevention is better than rehabilitation. This is just one more reason for the NSW Government to speed up the closing of coal-fired power stations and develop transition plans for those communities affected by the closures.