Angry Gwandalan residents say they are being ‘kept in the dark’ about coal smoke impacts

Angry Gwandalan residents say they are being ‘kept in the dark’ about coal smoke impacts

03 April 2014

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Australia — Gwandalan residents say they are sick of the “suffocating” smoke from a nearby coal mine fire.

Residents claim they’ve had enough and are being “kept in the dark” about excavation work being carried out on a slow-burning coal fire at a former colliery in nearby Crangan Bay.

Earth moving machinery was brought in over a week ago to help put out the fire in Lake Macquarie State Conservation Area which had been burning for months. But now there is growing panic about the possible health implications of the smoke and fumes.

Gwandalan mother of three Renee George described the situation as “unbearable”. “There are scores of us suffering with headaches, sinus problems, skin irritations, throat and eye issues and nausea including my children who are five, three and six months old. I want to know what it is we’re breathing in, and what the long-term health effects are,” she said.

Mrs George said while the the smoke and fumes have been around for a few weeks, it was worst at the weekend following strong winds and rain.

Gwandalan residents Meagan Anderson and Renee George with her children Haylee and Mason are concerned about the effects of smoke from a nearby mine fire. Source: News Limited

“Only personal responsibility of regional leaders will ensure the consolidation of efforts and conscientious fulfillment of tasks, though federal executive bodies also bear certain responsibility,” he went on.

Medvedev reminded that “the weather in the country never lets us relax: in the recent years, we’ve encountered such unprecedented disasters in terms of scale as fires in 2010, the flood in Krymsk in 2012 and the devastating flood in the Far East last year whose aftermath is still being eliminated.”

“This experience should be taken into account in the operation of the state system of warning and elimination of emergencies; we have to be ready for any scenarios of the development of events to the best of our abilities and opportunities,” because not all contingencies can be immediately resisted, the prime minister said.

An excavator spreads burning coal chitter in Crangan Bay, Lake Macquarie State Conservation Area, March 2014. Photo: NPWS Source: Supplied

“Sunday was the worst its been. It’s been like living in a jail at home. We couldn’t open the windows or doors. The smell was so overpowering – it felt like we were going to suffocate. We’ve coped until now, but now we’re sick of it.”

“Residents are angry. While some people saw a notice in the local shop, we’ve heard nothing and were given little to no warning and haven’t been told how long this is going to last.”

When neighbour Megan Anderson first smelt the fumes, which she describes as being “like burning plastic”, she thought they were coming from a nearby clandestine drug operation.

“I’m not usually one to make a fuss, but we were thinking about evacuating the whole family at the weekend, it was so bad,” said Mrs Anderson, who has also been complaining of sore eyes and other health problems.

An excavator spreads burning coal chitter in Crangan Bay, Lake Macquarie State Conservation Area, March 2014. Photo: NPWS Source: Supplied


A spoeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency said the agency was aware of the fire burning in the Crangan Bay area.

“The EPA understands the fire was the result of the bush-fires in the area earlier this year and has been advised that the focus of the operation at this stage is on extinguishing the fire,” she said.

Underground coal fires are difficult to extinguish.”

She said all questions about the operation should be directed to NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.

“The National Parks and Wildlife Service is the lead agency and is co-ordinating the operation and response effort.”

A dump truck helps control a slow-burning coal fire at the former Wallarah colliery site at Crangan Bay in Lake Macquarie State Conservation Area. Source: Supplied


National Parks and Wildlife Service Central Coast Hunter Region manager Geoff Luscombe said

control of the coal fire could take up to a month due to the unexpected depth of the coal seem.

“Advice prior to commencement indicated the deeper the smouldering material the longer it would take to address. The best estimated is that work to extinguish the smouldering coal chitter may take three or four weeks,” Mr Luscombe said.

He said as soon as the material has been extinguished it was expected the smoke would also disappear.

“The NPWS is working to reduce potential smoke impact as much as possible. This includes not operating on weekends when more people are likely to be at home,” he said.

-Does the OEH plan to have any air quality readings available?

Mr Luscombe said the smoke was not toxic topeople working on the site of the coal fire and that smoke emitted during the control operation wasnot excessive.

“However, some residents of Gwandalan and Nords Wharf may be able to detect the smell of coal burning. Normal precautions are advised for anyone who has a respiratory ailment. Avoid smoke, stay indoors, close windows and doors.”

OEH will also provide Gwandalan and Nords Wharf residents with a letterbox-drop to update them on the situation over coming days.

Information is also available on the Rural Fire Service website and “Fires Near me” mobile app as well.

The area remains closed to visitors during the operations.

Firefighters working to control and quell fire at coal mine at Morwell, Victoria. Source: News Corp Australia


The difficulties of dealing with coal fires was made obvious at Morwell in Victoria which saw the evacuation of many vulnerable residents amid health concerns.

But NPWS spokesman Lawrence Orel said the current situation in Crangan Bay was “quite different”.

“This fire is a series of intermittent hot-spots smouldering in a pile of coal waste, while the Morwell mine fire was large fire in an open cut mine,” Mr Orel said.

Locals in Morwell have taken to wearing masks as the Hazelwood Open Cut Coal Mine continues to burn. Source: News Corp Australia


Residents with health concerns, including residents who feel their health has been affected by smoke or odour, can call their local NSW Health Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055.

For further information, contact NPWS Lakes Office, 4972 9001.

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