Health fears at Leigh Creek
By Michael Unger
The Leigh Creek Trust, a group of 130 former Leigh Creek residents and workers, is preparing for a Supreme Court class action against the Electricity Trust of South Australia (ETSA).
Leigh Creek is a town of 1400 people in the far north of the state. The town services the adjacent Leigh Creek coalmine, which is owned by ETSA.
One of the regular jobs miners carry out is to burn the dump and overburden from the mine. In 1992 Bruce Benn, a former worker at the site, started suffering from sore eyes and chest and breathing difficulties whenever he went close to the fires. When the problems persisted, he lodged a Workcover claim which was subsequently rejected by ETSA.
Benn was soon approached by fellow workers and residents who had also started to become ill, and they formed the Leigh Creek Trust.
A campaign against trust, with posters making personal attacks against the members and petitions stating that the mine is not a health risk, eventually forced Benn and most of the others to move to Adelaide, where they continue to receive medical treatment for their respiratory problems.
In February 1994 the Department for Industrial Affairs issued four safety improvement notices against ETSA after a report by cancer specialist Dr Ted Emmett stated that there were and are "higher than allowable levels of toxic and dangerous carcinogens at Leigh Creek". Despite the report, last month the Industrial Court of South Australia cancelled the notices, saying they had been "issued without scientific basis".
The solicitors handling the class action say they have evidence of an earlier than usual death rate among former residents and workers at Leigh Creek.
The trust is also trying to have the unsuccessful Workcover claims for the miners' respiratory problems looked at again. It is calling on the Mining and Quarrying Occupational Health and Safety Committee to conduct a full inquiry into health risks from smoke and dust from the dump and overburden fires.