White Rock Quarry
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:42): I rise to raise some serious health concerns about the expansion of White Rock Quarry in Adelaide’s eastern suburbs. In January this year, the state government commenced a detailed assessment of the submission by Hanson construction materials to expand White Rock Quarry in the Adelaide Hills, just 10 kilometres east of the Adelaide CBD. In response to this proposed expansion, local residents have formed the group Residents Against White Rock Quarry over their concerns—and their rightful concerns—about the environmental and health risks of this proposed expansion.
One of the primary concerns to these residents is what is called respirable crystalline silica (RCS) dust. That has the potential to blow over the residents in that local eastern area, including Horsnell Gully, Magill, Skye and Norton Summit. The Cancer Council has found that exposure to silica dust can lead to the development of lung cancer, silicosis—which is an irreversible scarring and stiffening of the lungs—kidney disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and, quite rightly, these suburban residents are very fearful that they will be vulnerable to these health risks.
As a result of current laws, private mines can actually mine right up to the boundary of private homes in suburban areas, spewing this dangerous and unhealthy dust into these people’s very backyards and homes. Residents have a right to be concerned, indeed, while there is a nationally agreed workplace exposure limit on this dust. Those limits only apply in the workplace and they only apply for an eight-hour period of exposure each day, yet what protection is offered to individuals who are exposed to silica dust in the very homes they live in, where they spend far more than eight hours each day?
The average size of a particle of silica ranges from 0.1 to 100 microns. For comparison, the average size of a fine grain of sand is 125 microns and the average size of an asbestos particle ranges from 0.7 to 90 microns. Similar to asbestos particles, which I assume everyone in our community is now well aware of the dangers of, silica dust particles are invisible to the human eye. They cannot be tasted or felt. This means that you can be exposed to silica particles for an extended period of time without your knowledge.
The dangers associated with this exposure include bronchitis, emphysema, silicosis, lung cancer and, as I said before, obstructive pulmonary disease, as well as kidney damage. The Cancer Council has estimated that approximately 230 people develop lung cancer every single year as a result of long-term exposure to silica particles at work, where I say again that the allowed standard is for an eight-hour period only.
There is currently very little data available that focuses on the health impacts outside the workplace and indeed very little that focuses on exposure to particles from living near a quarry. What is happening here in our foothills to our east is that this quarry is going to expand right into the very backyards of this community and they are rightfully fearful that their health is being put at risk.
My colleague the Hon. David Shoebridge in New South Wales and I have long called for a ban on the dry cutting of materials that contain silica in the development of a plan to phase out those products. Many would be familiar with the kitchen benches that have become very fashionable, but indeed that fashion is quite lethal to those workers who handle this material.
We are totally aware of the error of our ways now with asbestos and we need to be exercising the same caution with silica dust. I stand and the Greens stand with the residents opposed to the expansion of White Rock Quarry. We in this council should be putting their health first, and I hope this parliament will do everything it can to ensure that the safety, security and health of those suburban residents are not impacted by the expansion of this quarry.
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (14:36): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Health and Wellbeing a question on the topic of residential health impacts regarding the proposed White Rock Quarry expansion.
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: In January this year, the South Australian government commenced a detailed assessment of the submission by Hanson Construction Materials Pty Ltd to expand White Rock Quarry in the Adelaide Hills. It is just 10 kilometres east of the Adelaide CBD. In response, local residents have formed a group called Residents Against White Rock Quarry. Their concerns include the environmental and health risks posed by the proposed expansion. One of the primary concerns of these residents is the respirable crystalline silica (RCS) dust which has the potential to blow over residents in local suburbs including Horsnell Gully, Magill, Skye and Norton Summit.
The Cancer Council has found that exposure to silica dust can lead to the development of lung cancer, silicosis—which is an irreversible scarring and stiffening of the lungs—kidney disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Adelaide suburban residents are now vulnerable to these health risks under our current laws, as private mines can mine right up to the boundaries of private homes.
We have workplace standards around this dangerous dust and I note that those workplace standards are some eight hours of exposure per day in measurement, and yet what we are talking about here is residential 24/7 exposure. My question to the minister is: what has the government done to measure the residential health risks posed to local and nearby residents of this expansion and what tools and guidelines for this work to be done are currently available to SA Health?
The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing) (14:38): I thank the honourable member for her question. White Rock Quarry was originally established in 1946. As the honourable member says, Hanson are proposing to extend the life of the quarry, which would result in a larger operational footprint that would move them closer to surrounding residences. To authorise the expansion, an updated mine operations plan must be approved by government. There has been stakeholder engagement in relation to the long-term quarry development plan, and there has been a strong reaction from the community.
The Department for Energy and Mining is coordinating the whole-of-government technical assessment that considers all potential environmental and health impacts. SA Health is working with the regulators, the Department for Energy and Mining and the Environment Protection Authority. SA Health is working with the regulators to ascertain in what way the White Rock Quarry project will impact on residents and how best to prevent and manage risks of dust and other air pollutants, including respirable silica. This includes working together in undertaking an exposure assessment. That exposure assessment will also include respirable silica exposure. The details of how this will be achieved are still in the planning stage.
I am advised that in terms of health it is well established that silicosis occurs in occupational settings when high levels of respirable silica occur, but our understanding of how a quarry may contribute to a community’s exposure leading to adverse health outcomes is less well developed.