Health Concerns over Westconnex

Sydney’s WestConnex road and tunnel project is riddled with health issues, argue activists.

The $18.6 billion, 33 kilometre road and tunnel project will lead to greater traffic volume and increase harmful pollution in areas where schools, housing and businesses are concentrated, say critics.

Dr Sujata Allan, a Sydney-based GP registrar and a member of Doctors for the Environment Australia, says that although Australia has national standards to regulate maximum levels of air pollution, “there is no safe limit for particle pollution”.

“The current regulations aren’t protecting public health,” says Dr Allan, “In any case, particle pollution along many areas on the WestConnex route is already close to current standards.”

According to Dr Allan, the current level of air pollution in Sydney is roughly equivalent to smoking one cigarette a day, and in Sydney air pollutants such as ozone and fine particles at times exceed the national standards, and are predicted to increase by 2036. She said particulate matter is linked to asthma, lung disease, cancer and stroke and higher rates of doctor visits, along with many other health issues.

“It is the pollution that you can’t see that is the most dangerous. It’s the smaller particle pollution produced by traffic that can get into the lungs and bloodstream, causing increased heart and lung diseases. Particle pollution alone causes fifteen hundred deaths each year in Australia.”

The WestConnex project will widen the M4 between Parramatta and Homebush and connect to the M5 and Port Botany via a series of tunnels and road widenings. Major sections are already in construction, with land clearing, bulk earthworks and tunnel boring taking place along the M4 motorway from Haberfield to Silverwater, and similar work underway to the south-west around St Peters in preparation for a new M5 tunnel.

More inner city air pollution

Jennifer Aaron, a retired nurse and activist opposed to WestConnex, said the community can’t be confident that state government had put in place measures to deal with the pollution that will result from the development.

“The 55-plus emission stacks throughout the inner west will all be unfiltered and the majority are very close to schools, pre-schools, playgrounds and homes. The SMC has stated that it is too expensive to filter the stacks and that they will be high enough to carry the unfiltered air up.”

State member for Newtown, Jenny Leong, has also raised concerns about WestConnex.

“WestConnex will put unfiltered ventilation stacks less than 500 metres from public schools, child-care centres and nursing homes,” Leong said.

“Vehicle exhaust emissions will worsen inner city air pollution, releasing airborne particles known to cause premature mortality and have serious health impacts.”

Jenny Leong is also concerned about health and safety breaches during the project’s construction. “There have been issues at Kingsgrove and Haberfield, as well as major concerns around the former Alexandria Landfill site, in terms of remediation, asbestos and the lack of proper safety measures.”

NSWNMA Assistant General Secretary Judith Kiejda says there is overwhelming evidence that WestConnex will cause serious health problems.

“We know that a road project like this will encourage even more cars on to our roads. This is the exact opposite of what needs to happen.

“We need solutions that take cars off the road and that encourage and support Sydneysiders to walk, cycle and to use public transport.

“We need to think about how we protect and nourish the health of Sydneysiders and we don’t do that through the creation of such a massive, polluting roadway.”