On February 9 this year the Hazelwood open cut brown coal mine in the Latrobe Valley, Victoria, caught fire resulting in the nearby town of Morwell being covered in plumes of smoke and ash over a period of six weeks.
The study will pay particular attention to susceptible sub-groups, such as pregnant women, infants and children, the elderly, and those with pre-existing lung and heart disease.
Lead researcher Professor Michael Abramson, from the Monash University School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, said there are no published health studies done specifically in relation to exposure to smoke from fires in open cut brown coal mines.
“The study will provide information on the potential health effects including respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, cancer, causes of death, child development and psychological outcomes as well as broader community health outcomes. It will also provide evidence on which to base health advice in future events,” Professor Abramson said.
The study will bring together researchers from across Monash University, Federation University, the University of Tasmania, CSIRO and the University of Adelaide. An important feature of the study will be the strong local base, with the Monash School of Rural Health, which has several sites in the region, playing a lead role. This local connection will be reinforced through collaboration with researchers from the Federation University Gippsland campus.
The project will involve the development of an Advisory Committee with representation from local community members as well as close connections with local health professionals to ensure the study outcomes are communicated locally and taken up into policy and practice.
Professor Judi Walker, Head of the Monash School of Rural Health, said: “This study is focused on the health impacts on the local community and while funded for an initial 10 year period, is expected to continue for 20 years or more to enable the detection of longer term outcomes. Such a major undertaking can only be done in close collaboration with the community.”