Families of mining town fear exposure to deadly dust
The town of Tenterfield is advertised as being a place to get some "fresh country air" but residents and their families, the reality is the exact opposite.
"Itching for some fresh country air, looking for a place to stretch your legs, well then get yourself over to Tenterfield," the tourism ads say, showing lush green vegetation and a clear sky.
But for the residents of this town, the reality is the exact opposite.
Jessie and Ben Morrow have four children under seven but they won't let them play in the backyard.
Not because of nearby traffic or because they'd run off but because dust from a nearby quartz quarry is spewing out 97 per cent silica dust.
Exposure to silica can cause lung cancer and the Cancer Council says there's no evidence to support a safe level of silica dust exposure.
That terrifies the Morrows and all their neighbours in Tenterfield where Darryl McCarthy Constructions has submitted a DA to expand operations within Dowe's Quarry.
The company conservatively estimates that 4.8 million tonnes of quartzose rock - the most common source of crystalline silica - could be recovered from within the existing and expanded quarry.
Their Environmental Impact Statement also says they want crushing and screening on site using mobile processing equipment.
About 6.4 hectares of native vegetation will be removed and the extraction area will be increased by 4.4 hectares.
But Ms Morrow, a geologist, who along with other residents have commissioned their own air monitoring, says she fears for the town's health.
"I don't want my kids to be guinea pigs," she says.
As it is, they crush every day, a dust plume descending over the town.
The development application is currently before the Northern Regional Planning Panel.
A panel meeting in December heard from multiple residents all concerned about the proposal and the impact it would have on health and safety.
In a statement to 9News, Darryl McCarthy Constructions executive general manager operations Joel Barnes said: "The development application for the Dowe's Quarry is being carried out in accordance with relevant statutory processes that require consideration of community health and safety and consultation with the local community, the EPA, Council and Transport for NSW.
"The application will be determined by the Northern Regional Planning Panel (NRPP). The NRPP is an independent body that determines development matters of regional significance taking into account community submissions, agency advice and council recommendations."
Complicating matters, Tenterfield Shire Council mayor Peter Petty sits on the panel.
"Unfortunately, given that the application is currently under assessment by the Northern Joint Regional Planning Panel (sic) and I am a member of this panel, the panel's code of conduct prevents me from making statements about the process," he told 9News in a statement.
The panel has asked for an independent human health risk review. That review is being managed by Council.
DMC says it's committed to community safety and applies water and dust suppressant to haul roads, processing equipment and stockpiles, and doesn't blast in unfavourable conditions.
"We have committed to continuing this local business that provides employment and associated economic benefits. Our commitment to the community extends to health and safety," Mr Barnes said.
But Ms Morrow says the stress of the dust keeps her up at night.
"What damage is it doing?" she says.
"I stay awake at night wondering what damage has been done.
"Should we just leave?
"I don't want to say to one of my kids there's something wrong and you're not going to make 18 because we took a gamble on it being safe."
The Morrows' children are aged two, four, six and seven.
"It's a really big concern. Some people who live near the crusher can't drink their own tank water. They've had to screen off their verandahs," Ms Morrow says.
There are around 30 properties within two kilometres of the quarry and the panel has received more than 100 submissions and signatories against the DA.
Another resident, Vince Sherry, says residents will be exposed to more noise and more dust but the impacts have been brushed aside to prioritise shareholder profits over residents.
The planning panel meets again later this month.