Category Archives: News

Report: Ambulance call outs increased during mine fire

Image courtesy of Monash Rural Health Latrobe Valley and West Gippsland

New findings from the Hazelwood Health Study (HHS) show an overall increase in ambulance attendances during the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire period.

Using data supplied by Ambulance Victoria for Morwell and surrounding towns, the analysis showed a 15% increased likelihood of ambulance attendances for all conditions during the mine fire period when compared to other times before and after the mine fire.

“When we looked into respiratory conditions specifically, we found there was a 41% increase in ambulance attendances during the mine fire period, compared to ambulance attendances before and after the mine fire,” HHS researcher Associate Professor Yuming Guo said.

“This corresponds to an estimated total of 236 attendances for all conditions and 42 attendances for respiratory conditions associated with the mine fire during the mine fire period.”

“We also wanted to know if there was an association between ambulance attendances and daily pollution levels. By mapping changes in air pollution levels onto ambulance use, we found that increases in the levels of mine fire related air pollution increased ambulance attendances for respiratory conditions.”

HHS Principal Investigator, Professor Michael Abramson cautioned that although “the study adjusted for other factors, such as seasonality, day of the week and public holidays, there were unknown factors that could not be controlled for, such as the proportion of population leaving the area.”

Researchers from the Monash University-led Hazelwood Health Study will be conducting further analyses using ambulance attendances, hospital admissions, emergency presentations and cancer datasets.

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 view a summary of these findings, visit http://hazelwoodhealthstudy.org.au/study-findings/fact-sheets-and-summaries/ or to download the full technical report, visit http://hazelwoodhealthstudy.org.au/study-findings/study-reports/ 

Call for Expressions of Interest – Community Advisory Committee

The Hazelwood Health Study has an active Community Advisory Committee (CAC) to ensure the study hears directly from and works in partnership with local residents and stakeholders in the Latrobe Valley and in Sale.

 

The meetings take place on a regular basis at the Monash University campus at Latrobe Regional Hospital. Committee membership includes up to six community members from the Latrobe Valley and up to four community members from Sale (the community chosen as the comparison group for the adult health assessments). These positions are non-representative and voluntary. In addition, the Committee includes organisational representatives from health and community service providers, local government and Federation University.

 

We are currently seeking expressions of interest from Latrobe Valley and Sale residents with an interest in the long-term health outcomes from the mine fire and the future wellbeing of the community.

 

We are keen to involve people from diverse backgrounds in the discussion, including people from different age groups, cultural backgrounds and those with and without prior experience in similar committees. The selection of the community members will be at the discretion of a selection committee to ensure a broad range of inputs into the committee including age and gender balance.

 

This call for expressions of interest will close on Friday 14 December 2018.

To download the application form, please click here.

For more information about the study, the committee, and the call for expressions of interest, please visit hazelwoodhealthstudy.org.au or call Melissa Peppin on 5122 7102.

First findings focusing on children’s lung and blood vessel health released

A Hazelwood Health Study analysis has found weak evidence for a link between higher mine fire smoke exposure and small increases in lung stiffness in children who were aged up to two at the time of the fire. Lung stiffness was one of three indicators of lung health that were measured in the study.

The analysis also found weak evidence for a link between higher mine fire smoke exposure in children who were aged up to two at the time of the mine fire and slightly increased blood vessel stiffness, although these changes were very small.

Reassuringly, no associations were seen between mine fire smoke exposure and any of these health outcomes in children whose mothers were pregnant with them at the time of the fire. However the research did show that cigarette smoking during pregnancy was clearly linked with both blood vessel and lung changes in children.

HHS researcher Dr Fay Johnston cautioned that although the results were suggestive of a possible link between mine fire smoke exposure during infancy and lung or blood vessel health, the evidence was not strong.

“We cannot rule out the possibility that the results occurred by chance, or were due to other unmeasured factors that can affect blood vessel or lung health,” Dr Johnston said.

“We need to do further studies to confirm these results. It is possible that these results will change as children get older, so it is important to follow their progress to see if changes in lung or blood vessel function continue or go away.”

The lung tests were carried out on 105 children. They involved using small vibrations to see how easily air goes in and out while children breathed through a tube. The heart tests involved using ultrasounds to test the blood vessel thickness and stiffness of 248 children.

The research team estimated how much mine fire smoke each child had been exposed to by looking at where the child (or mother if pregnant at the time) was each day during the fire and how polluted the air in the area was.

This analysis was conducted by the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania as part of the larger, Monash University-led Hazelwood Health Study.

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

To view a summary of these findings, visit http://hazelwoodhealthstudy.org.au/study-findings/fact-sheets-and-summaries/ or to request a copy of the full technical reports, please call 1800 985 899 or email [email protected]

Our Hopes for the Future of Morwell exhibition on show at Mid Valley

 

AN exhibition featuring the hopes and dreams of the Morwell community is on show to the local community for the next two months.

Following successful showings at Switchback Gallery in Churchill last year, and at State Parliament in May this year, the ‘Our hopes for the future of Morwell’ photographic exhibition will be on show at Mid Valley Shopping Centre in Morwell.

The exhibition was developed by the Federation University-led Community Wellbeing research stream of the Hazelwood Health Study in collaboration with Morwell Neighbourhood House and Gippsland Centre for Art and Design at Federation University Australia.

It features 24 photographs of community groups and members holding objects symbolising their hopes for the future of Morwell.

The project came to fruition following extensive consultations with local groups about ways to strengthen community wellbeing and recovery post Hazelwood mine fire and power station closure.

Community groups and members chose to be photographed with images that symbolise their hopes for the future. The resulting photographic images express their contributions to a positive conversation about the future for Morwell.

“This exhibition evolved from research into recovery from the Hazelwood mine fire. We listened and clearly heard that people wanted to do something positive about Morwell and to be a part of the conversations about the future,” Health Study researcher Dr Sue Whyte said.

The photographs, taken by Clive Hutchison, also feature an accompanying caption written by each participating group describing what the object represents for them.

The exhibition will be on show from October through to early December.

“This exhibition is important because it demonstrates that this community, which has suffered a number of setbacks including the Hazelwood mine fire, and the subsequent closure of the mine and Hazelwood power station, is showing resilience and optimism in the face of adversity,” Dr Sue Yell, Community Wellbeing Research Lead and exhibition organiser, said.

Hazelwood Health Study completes an investigation of the impacts of the Hazelwood mine fire on a specialist school which relocated during the smoke event

The Hazelwood Health Study has completed an investigation of the impacts of the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire on wellbeing, educational outcomes, and teaching practices for students and staff at a specialist school which relocated during the smoke event.

“We would like to thank all teachers and administrative staff who gave their time to describe their experiences of the smoke event,” Monash University researcher Dr Emily Berger said.

Dr Berger said that analysis of the interviews with students suggested that the smoke event had adversely impacted on student wellbeing, including increased feelings of anxiety and frustration, difficulty adjusting to the relocation environment, a reduced sense of safety, as well as increased levels of stress at home.

“Having to cope with these challenges likely contributed to the drop in both attendance and schoolwork completion reported during this time.”

School staff also experienced anxiety and frustration around the event, particularly in relation to having concerns for themselves and their families at the same time as working hard to look after their students.

“Relocation of the school imposed extra duties upon staff, reduced their access to teaching resources, and increased the time spent dealing with student concerns. The smoke event affected teachers at the school on both a professional, and personal, level.”

On a positive note, Dr Berger said that relocating the school during the event had reduced exposure to smoke for students and teachers, and that the school had been proactive in its response by taking the opportunity to engage students in a variety of outdoor activities away from the smoke.

“The school’s use of a trauma-informed approach to teaching provided considerable insights into how best to support students during future emergency events, particularly those requiring an extended relocation period.”

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

This report is being published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Trauma. A copy of the pre-print version of this article is available at www.hazelwoodhealthstudy.org.au/publications

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

Engage with the Hazelwood Health Study – 22 August 2018

The Hazelwood Health Study is inviting Latrobe Valley and Sale residents to participate in an upcoming community engagement session.

The engagement evening will be held at the Morwell RSL, 52 Elgin Street Morwell VIC 3840, on 22 August 2018, commencing at 6.30pm.

Community member and chair of the Community Advisory Committee, Carolyne Boothman, encourages locals to attend the session as it provides a vital opportunity for people to meet the researchers and discuss the process and findings to date.

“There are many different research streams to the study, with a lot of people involved in the different streams, so it is an ideal opportunity to find out what the study focuses on and what the findings are to date.”

This year, we will be joined by the Latrobe Health Advocate, Jane Anderson; the Executive Officer of the Latrobe Health Assembly, Ian Needham; Deputy Commissioner of Emergency Management Victoria, Tony Murphy; and Manager of Environmental Public Health for the EPA Victoria, Bronwyn Green.

“It is really important that we all understand each other’s roles and responsibilities otherwise some people get quite confused” Professor Judi Walker, HHS Principal Co-Investigator (Gippsland) said. “The study is now producing results we can share with the community and these organisations so their involvement in our annual community engagement session this year is very valuable”, she said.

The Hazelwood Health Study is a long-term independent study led by Monash University in conjunction with its study partners – Federation University Australia, the University of Tasmania’s Menzies Institute for Medical Research, the University of Adelaide and the CSIRO.

The study is funded by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services. For more information about the session, visit www.hazelwoodhealthstudy.org.au or www.facebook.com/HazelwoodHealthStudy

To submit your questions, visit http://hazelwoodhealthstudy.org.au/2018-community-engagement-session/ 

Hazelwood Health study completes first round of heart health testing in Morwell

The Hazelwood Health Study has completed heart and blood vessel health assessments in Morwell, testing more than 330 people.

Testing finished on April 30th and marked the end of the first phase of the study’s clinical assessments.

“Thank you to all the residents who took part in the assessments. The staff have appreciated your support and the time you committed to the testing,” Hazelwood Health Study Clinical Stream Coordinator Brigitte Borg said.

“The Morwell residents who participated in the testing will be invited to undergo the same assessments on two further occasions; once in 2020 and again three years from then.”

Ms Borg said the repeated assessments will help researchers look for changes in heart and blood vessel health over time in residents who lived in Morwell during the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire.

However, those who participated this time will be under no obligation to participate in the future.

As part of the assessment process, letters were sent to participants’ nominated GPs if their tests revealed anything unusual, such has high blood pressure.

Local GP, Dr Ian Webb, thanked the study for sending the reports that he said has helped with the ongoing treatment of his patients.

“The letters were very informative and encouraged further discussion between doctor and patient,” Dr Webb said.

“While we were aware of existing conditions in a number of instances, some of the assessments identified issues requiring further follow up with the patient.

“I appreciate the study’s work in ensuring anything out of the ordinary health-wise during the assessments was brought to our attention.”

Health assessments were also undertaken in the comparison community of Sale. Researchers will now begin analysing the data from these assessments, as well as the respiratory health assessments which finished earlier in the year, and expect to release findings associated with the testing later this year. For more information about the Hazelwood Health Study, visit www.hazelwoodhealthstudy.org.au

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

Coal mine fire-related air pollution increased health service use, study finds

Coal mine fire-related air pollutants from the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire have been linked to a rise in health service use and increased rates of dispensing prescription medications in the Latrobe Valley.

These findings were made after Hazelwood Health Study researchers related daily coal mine-fire related air pollution simulations conducted by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation to data provided by the Commonwealth Department of Human Services on health service use and prescription medication dispensed by pharmacists in the Latrobe Valley.

“It was estimated from 9 February 2014 to 10 March 2014 that there were an additional 5137 General Practitioner consultations, 405 cardiovascular visits, 174 respiratory visits and 286 mental health consultations attributed to coal mine-fire related PM2.5 (fine particles with a diameter of 2.5 thousandths of a millimetre or less) air pollution,” HHS researcher Associate Professor Yuming Guo said.

“We also estimated that an additional 2501 cardiovascular medications, 574 respiratory medications and 1429 mental health-related medications were dispensed as a result of the PM2.5 air pollution during the mine fire period.

“These findings showed clear evidence that PM2.5 air pollution was significantly associated with an estimated increase in health service use and the dispensing of respiratory, cardiovascular and mental health medications, however, the data were not enough to link any individual case to the fire.”

Associate Professor Guo said in this instance, the examination of air pollution was limited to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and did not include other possible pollutants such as carbon monoxide.

However, these findings will help fill in knowledge gaps that exist regarding the impact of open cut brown coal mine fire smoke exposure on health service and prescription medication usage.

“They will also be helpful in developing and introducing strategies to plan cardiovascular, respiratory and mental health services for any possible future coal mine fire air pollution in the Latrobe Valley or similar communities,” Associate Professor Guo said.

Researchers from the Monash University-led Hazelwood Health Study are also running clinical assessments in Morwell and Sale and conducting interviews that will further assess cardiovascular, respiratory and mental health in smoke-affected communities.

The Medicare Benefits Schedule and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme data: Time series analyses report is available here.

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

Health study completes lung function assessments in Sale

Hazelwood Health Study Respiratory Stream Coordinator Brigitte Borg and respiratory scientists Tom McCrabb and Annie Makar.

Lung function health assessments in Sale have closed with the Hazelwood Health Study testing 173 residents.

Respiratory scientists from the Study have been testing Sale residents to find out whether exposure to smoke from the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire is associated with respiratory symptoms, or changes in lung health or asthma control.

Sale residents have been included as an important comparison community to Morwell residents who were more highly exposed. However, the research also provides vital information about the respiratory health profile of the Sale community. Testing completed in Sale on 16 March.

“On behalf of the Hazelwood Health Study, I would like to extend our thanks to the Sale community for their ongoing support and hospitality,” Respiratory Stream Coordinator Brigitte Borg said.

“The members of this community have rallied to support these assessments, which have helped to ensure the ongoing success of the Study.

“Residents who participated in the testing will be invited to undergo the same assessments on two further occasions; once in three years and again in six years from now.”

Results from the Sale assessments will be compared to tests completed in Morwell last year.

Cardiovascular health testing was also carried out in Sale last year with assessments currently underway in Morwell and expected to be completed by early May.

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

Hazelwood Health Study meet and greet

Get in touch with Hazelwood Health Study Communications and Engagement Adviser Shaun Mallia If you would like to know more about the study.

Latrobe Valley residents will have the opportunity to learn about the Hazelwood Health Study at a series of community meet and greets.

The Monash University-led study was formed following the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire to identify potential health outcomes for people who may have been exposed to smoke from the fire.

The study’s Communications and Engagement Adviser, Shaun Mallia, will be based at multiple Morwell locations during the next few weeks and available to speak with members of the community about the study.

On Thursday 22 March, Shaun will be based at the Latrobe Health Assembly office at Suite 1/256 Commercial Road, Morwell.

On Thursday 29 March, he will be based at Morwell Neighbourhood House at 48 Beattie Crescent, Morwell.

On Thursday 5 April, you can chat with Shaun at the ReActivate Latrobe Valley office at 226 Commercial Road, Morwell.

He will be available from 9am to 5pm and interested residents can make an appointment by phoning 0438 152 751 or 5122 7382 – or just drop in for a casual chat. Alternatively, residents should feel free to call Shaun at any time to chat about the study.