The health of residents in Port Hedland’s west end could be adversely affected by long-term exposure to dust in the area, a West Australian Government-commissioned report has found.
Port Hedland is the world’s largest volume port for exporting bulk materials and there have been ongoing concerns about dust levels in the area.
Iron ore, salt, manganese, chrome and copper concentrates are just some of the commodities that pass through the port, and the town’s rapid growth has meant that some residents live in close proximity to the port, in the town’s west.
The report found evidence of “certain health outcomes that show an increase in all-cause mortality and an increase in hospitalisation for respiratory conditions”.
Health Department director of environmental health Jim Dodds said the report reiterated the findings of an earlier literature review which found dust particles, known as PM10, could have an adverse effect on health.
“It’s hard to discern exactly how much, but the evidence is clear that they could have an impact,” he said.
“It’s not acute, it’s not something we’ve got to do something about tomorrow, but we’ve got an opportunity to move people away and we should take every opportunity to reduce the number of people that are exposed.”
Mr Dodds was unable to say how many people might be affected, but said it was mostly those in the western part of the town.
“There’s no immediate risk but it would be good to talk about how we could reduce the number of people living there and what we might be able to do to stop more people moving there to live there permanently,” he said.
Action needed: Health Department
He said it was difficult to ascertain whether people in Port Hedland’s west went to hospital with health complaints more often than other people.
“But from all of the information that we could get around the world and looking at that data we think they do, and there’s enough evidence to say we should be doing something about it,” he said.
“We’re not seeing it with more people being sick in massive numbers or anything but there’s enough evidence now to say we should be acting to try to do something about this in the future.
“There’s going to need to be some changes in what land uses are there over time and how we actually address that to make sure people aren’t exposed to it all the time.”
In recent weeks Labor’s Mining and Pastoral MP, Stephen Dawson, has called on the Government repeatedly to table the report in Parliament.
Mr Dawson said he was pleased the report had finally been released, but was disappointed the document was posted on the Health Department’s website on Friday afternoon without any explanation from the Minister.
“I’m very concerned that the Government hasn’t explained to the community what exactly this report means and whether people in the west end of Port Hedland are at risk by living there,” he said.
“At first glance this report looks very concerning. People living in the west end of Port Hedland have got reason to be concerned.
“The State Government and the Minister for Health need to explain to us exactly what this report means.”
The report’s findings appear to back a 2014 decision by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to reject the Town of Port Hedland’s bid to develop a multi-million-dollar marina in the area because of concerns about dust.
The Government has been contacted for comment.