Greens urge unions to fight coal

Greens senator Richard Di Natale has declared union boss Paul Howes needs to acknowledge the health dangers of the coal industry poses in an effort to protect the public.

A former GP, Di Natale said Howes’ concerns about the possible risks of nanoparticles in various manufactured products, were questionable when he has not spoken out about the air-pollution caused by coal.

Yesterday Manufacturers’ Monthly reported the Australian Workers Union’s Howes had said he is concerned about the widespread use of nanotechnology, claiming there’s potential for an “asbestos-style issue in the future”.

Di Natale explained there are known risks of airborne particulates from the mining, handling, and transporting of coal.

Howes told Fairfax Media that the widespread use of nanoparticles in sunscreens, building materials, paints, and lens coatings, could be similar to an asbestos-style scenario.

''I don't want to make the mistake that my predecessors made by not worrying about asbestos,'' he said.

''No one knew about the dangers of it; everyone thought it was this miracle fibre that could be used for anything and it was going to transform Australia. Lo and behold, it also kills you.

But Di Natale said Howes' concerns on nanoparticles would be better directed at the coal mining sector, which regularly transports coal in open train carriages through urban areas.

''Coal dust is a known carcinogen particularly the small particles, particulate matter of less than 2.5 microns, the really small stuff, it gets quite deep into the airways,'' he said.

''You now have public health professionals talking about it in the same way they talk about asbestos and tobacco.''

''You've got Paul Howes who reportedly is worried about the health of his workers and the impact that nanotechnology might have on his workers, and yet here he is presiding over a coal boom that's going to dwarf anything that nanotechnology is going to do in terms of the impacts on his members,'' Di Natale said.

Howes refuted the Greens argument saying they were completely off-track and ''had again failed to do the research''.

''My members don't work with coal,'' he said.

''That's another union entirely.''

A Senate inquiry, petitioned for by Di Natale is set to kick off shortly looking into the impact coal mining, combustion, and transport has on air pollution.

The inquiry is expected to include major coal areas like Gladstone in Queensland, the NSW Hunter Valley and South Australia’s Port Augusta, it is due to report back before the federal election in September.

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