Adult Survey: Respiratory and Psychological Symptoms are lasting effects of the Hazelwood coal mine fire

New findings from the Hazelwood Health Study (HHS) Adult Survey suggest that people exposed to smoke during the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire were still experiencing psychological distress and respiratory symptoms two and a half years later, often regardless of whether their level of exposure had been low, medium, or high.   

This research aimed to assess whether adults who were heavily exposed to air pollution from the mine fire experienced poorer respiratory, cardiovascular, or psychological, health than adults who were less exposed.

“What we found is that, irrespective of whether their level of air pollution exposure was low, medium or high, participants who were exposed to the mine fire smoke were more likely to report most respiratory symptoms such as wheeze, night time and resting shortness of breath, chronic cough and phlegm, chest tightness and nasal symptoms, compared to participants who were not exposed. Increases were observed ranging from 15%, up to 110% for some symptoms” Principal Investigator Michael Abramson said.

“Reassuringly, we did not find any increase in the likelihood of having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular conditions, diabetes or cancer related to exposure to the mine fire smoke.”

It was also found that any level of smoke exposure during the mine fire was related to experiencing greater psychological distress. Impacted participants reported symptoms including intrusive thoughts about the fire, avoidance behaviour such as trying not to think or talk about the fire and being more easily startled.

“While there was an increase in distress levels associated with exposure to the smoke, the average level of distress across the community was moderate, with some people reporting little or no impacts and others reporting higher impacts,” Psychological Impacts Stream Lead Dr Matthew Carroll said.

Researchers from the Monash University-led Hazelwood Health Study will distribute the results to healthcare providers in the Latrobe Valley and the wider Gippsland region to help inform public health policy.

For more information about the Hazelwood Health Study, visit hazelwoodhealthstudy.org.au  

This research was funded by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services.

To download the research summary, click here.

To download the full report, click here.