Category Archives: Study findings

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/ 

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]

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.

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.