Reliance on coal mining has serious health and social impacts, according to a new report released by the University of Sydney.


The research comes from a major review of the evidence on the impact of coal mining on communities compiled from 10 countries.


"This comprehensive review of Australian and international health and medical literature underlines the pressing need for Australia to re-evaluate whether the overall health and social costs of Australia's reliance on a coal economy will ultimately outweigh its economic benefits," said lead author Associate Professor Ruth Colagiuri, from Sydney Medical School.


The report, commissioned by research consortium Beyond Zeo Emissions, provides an overview of all available evidence on the health and social impacts of coal mining on local communities, relating the issues to the Hunter Region of New South Wales, which has more than 30, mostly open-cut, coal mines and six coal-fired power stations.


Studies from coal mining regions of the US, the United Kingdom, Canada, Turkey, Israel, and Asia indicate serious health impacts for communities living near coal mines and coal combusting power stations.


"Among the problems identified in children and infants in these communities are impaired growth and neurological development, high blood levels of heavy metals, higher prevalences of any birth defects and a greater chance of being of low birth weight, which is a risk factor for future obesity, diabetes and heart disease," Associate Professor Colagiuri said.


Adults have been shown to have higher rates of death from lung cancer and chronic heart, respiratory and kidney diseases. They also have increased chances of developing other cancers and hypertension. Some studies also show higher rates of miscarriages and stillbirths.


"Although there are differences in mining practices and standards across countries that may account for some of this excess death and illness, it is hard to imagine that at least some of this evidence would not apply to Australia," Professor Colagiuri said.


Studies from the US, the UK, Russia and Queensland found social injustices associated with coal mining such as environmental degradation, including water pollution and slurry spills. Also identified were the inability of communities to grasp financial benefits and the distortion of the local economy and infrastructure, including labour and accommodation shortages and increased pressure on local emergency services.