Category Archives: News

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.

First findings focusing on mother and baby health released

A Hazelwood Health Study analysis has found no association between exposure of pregnant women to mine fire smoke and earlier delivery or the birth weight of babies in the Latrobe Valley.

The finding is featured in the first volume of the Early Life Follow-Up Cohort Study report that looked at whether Hazelwood mine fire smoke exposure affected pregnancy or birth outcomes in children from the Valley.

Hazelwood Health Study researcher Fay Johnston.

HHS researcher Dr Fay Johnston said her team did not find an association between mothers’ exposure to smoke from the mine fire and birth before full term (37 weeks), birth weight at term or weight for stage of pregnancy.

“This preliminary analysis took into account the possible influence of risk factors like age of mothers and cigarette smoking during pregnancy,” Dr Johnston said.

“While these initial results are reassuring, this study was relatively small and small studies cannot always identify weak associations that might be present.”

Researchers surveyed 548 children from the Latrobe Valley who were born between 1 March 2012 and 1 December 2015.

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.

Researchers estimated how much smoke each child may have been exposed to by matching their home address with the daily estimated amount of air pollution in that area during the mine fire period.

They also found other well-recognised factors, including smoking in pregnancy and the amount of general stress during pregnancy, were correlated with lower birth weights in babies in this study.

“It is important to stress that this report only presents some initial findings from the survey completed by parents or carers of participating children. More results will be presented in later reports,” Dr Johnston said.

Researchers will now complete a larger study of hospital records for babies born in the Latrobe Valley. This will cover the same time period of the survey.

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

To view a summary of these findings, click here.

To view the full technical report, click here.

Hazelwood Health Study releases 2017 Annual Report

The Hazelwood Health Study 2017 Annual Report is now available.

The report provides a summary of progress made since the second Annual Report was submitted in November 2016, and includes a forecast on developments that are expected over the next few months.

Click here to download a full copy of the report.

For a copy of all other reports, including research reports, visit here.

Hazelwood Health Study reaches lung function testing goal

Respiratory Coordinator Brigitte Borg has thanked the Morwell community for its support.

Lung function assessments in Morwell have ended with the Hazelwood Health Study testing 347 people.

Testing in Morwell ended on 8 December with the study exceeding its target of 339.

The assessments aimed to find out whether exposure to mine fire smoke is associated with respiratory symptoms, or changes in lung health or asthma control.

“It was vital as many people participated in the assessments as possible,” Respiratory Coordinator Brigitte Borg said.

“Not only is their participation helping the researchers measure the impact of the mine fire smoke, it also provided vital information about the respiratory health profile in Morwell.

“On behalf of the study I would also like to extend our thanks to the Morwell community for their ongoing support. We will return to Morwell in about three years’ time to re-commence testing.”

Testing will now relocate to the comparison community of Sale with assessments to begin in late January.

Heart and blood vessel assessments, which have been taking place in Sale since October, will then start taking place in Morwell from mid-January with letters to eligible residents going out later this month.

Appointments will include completing questionnaires, measurements and tests administered by trained researchers in private rooms.

Residents who choose to take part in testing will be compensated for their time with a $50 gift card. Information on how to participate will be included in mailed invitations.

“Residents who participate 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,” Ms Borg said.

Morwell community members who receive an information pack inviting them to participate in heart and blood vessel assessments should phone the bookings team on 1800 985 899 to make an appointment.

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

Hazelwood Health Study closing in on assessment target

Sale resident Marion Hector completing a questionnaire during the heart and blood vessel assessment.

The Hazelwood Health Study is urging Sale residents invited to participate in heart and blood vessel assessments to book an appointment today.

The study has been assessing participants in Sale since October with testing to end mid-January.

The study is closing in on its target of 165 assessments having tested over 150 residents to date.

“We have had a fantastic response from Sale residents and thank the community for their support,” researcher Brigitte Borg said.

“But we still need residents who have been invited to participate to phone our bookings team on 1800 985 899 and make an appointment.”

The aim of this phase is to take a snapshot of the health of the hearts and blood vessels of adults living in Sale.

Participation involves attending the Hazelwood Health Study Clinic at Central Gippsland Health Service in Sale for two hours.

The appointment will include completing questionnaires, measurements and tests administered by trained researchers in private rooms.

Residents who take part in the assessments will receive a $50 gift card for their time and inconvenience. Information on how to participate will be included in the mailed invitations.

Participants will then be invited to repeat the same assessments on two further occasions; once in three years and again in six years from now.

Sale was selected as the comparison community because it was only minimally exposed to the mine fire smoke and was comparable to Morwell in size, rural location and population characteristics.

Once testing ends in Sale it will relocate to Morwell where a further 300 assessments are expected to take place. Lung function assessments, which have been taking place in Morwell since August, will then start taking place in Sale from mid-January with letters to eligible residents going out later this month.

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

The role of social media during the Hazelwood mine fire

Social media played a vital role filling in the information gaps during the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire, the Hazelwood Health Study has found.

Researchers studied how community-initiated Facebook groups emerged during the mine fire event and were used by the community to comment on the emergency response and to share a range of self-sourced information.

The study focused on three Facebook groups that became active during the 2014 mine fire – The Air that we Breathe, Occupy Latrobe, and Voices of the Valley.

“A key theme to come from the research is the close relationship between the quality of the information provided during the emergency and the extent to which organisations are trusted,” researcher Dr Sue Yell said.

“The community perceived official information sources as inadequate and untrustworthy, and used social media to fill the information gap.

“While social media can fill an information gap, it can also sometimes confuse rather than inform.”

Social media’s role in community empowerment and engagement was another key theme to appear from the research.

“Social media during the mine fire was used to fulfil an advocacy role and a watchdog function, holding organisations to account on matters of public safety,” Dr Yell said.

“Community groups also formed and organised themselves using social media. However, conflicts and disagreements also occurred within these groups.”

She said there was a division over whether the prominent voices on social media could speak on behalf of the community.

“Social media can empower communities but they can’t necessarily overcome existing divisions,” Dr Yell said.

The study will next look at the principles for optimal communication in events similar to the mine fire. These principles will be provided to organisations to help inform and improve their crisis communication policies.

“A better understanding of how communities use social media during a disaster can help inform the way government departments and emergency managers communicate with a community during a disaster, and can assist them to improve their own use of social media,” Dr Yell said.

This analysis was conducted by Federation University Australia researchers as part of the larger, Monash University-led Hazelwood Health Study.

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

Exhibition to showcase hopes for the future of Morwell

The ‘Our hopes for the future of Morwell’ exhibition features 28 photographs of community groups and members holding objects that symbolise their hopes for the future of Morwell.

The community’s hopes and dreams for Morwell will be showcased at a photography exhibition at Switchback Gallery, Federation University, Gippsland Campus from 14-24 November.

The exhibition, titled ‘Our hopes for the future of Morwell’, is a project developed by the Hazelwood Health Study, in collaboration with Morwell Neighbourhood House and Gippsland Centre for Art and Design at Federation University.

It will feature 28 photographs of community groups and members holding objects that symbolise their hopes for the future of Morwell.

Hazelwood Health Study research associate Dr Sue Whyte said the exhibition followed extensive consultation with local groups about ways to strengthen community wellbeing and recovery post-Hazelwood mine fire and power station closure.

“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,” Dr Whyte said.

“We came up with the idea of people thinking about what their future hopes for Morwell were and coming up with a symbol to feature in a photo to be included in a community exhibition.”

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

“As Clint Eastwood put it, ‘sometimes if you want to see a change for the better, you have to take things into your own hands’. This sentiment is at the heart of the image making,” Mr Hutchison said.

The free exhibition will be open to the community for two weeks from 14 November including Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 November. The gallery is open from 10am to 4.30pm. The exhibition is then expected to travel to other locations in the local community and more broadly.