While most students have ‘moved on’, some are reporting ongoing issues associated with the Hazelwood mine fire

Analysis of the second round of interviews with student participating in the Hazelwood Health Study (HHS) Schools Study has revealed that while the majority of the participants reported little to no ongoing concerns, some students reported ongoing issues.

According to Psychological Impacts stream lead Dr Matthew Carroll, this included dreaming about the event, feeling more restless, and attempting to avoid thinking about the event by distracting themselves with other activities.

The study aimed to assess the psychological impacts of six weeks of exposure to smoke and ash from the Hazelwood mine fire on school aged children. Researchers analysed the results of the face to face interviews held in 2017 with 46 students in grades 5, 7 and 9.

“While these findings are in line with what we found from the first round, a clear theme that emerged in this new analysis was that most students had ‘moved on’ from the Hazelwood event,” said Dr Carroll.

The report includes several suggestions from the students about how to respond to a future event, including the need for clearer communication with students on the potential impacts of the event and what they can do to look after themselves and their families.

According to Dr Carroll, the findings from across the different streams of the Hazelwood Health Study is continuing to shed light on the impacts of exposure to the smoke event and should inform any communications relating to a future event.

Analysis of Schools Study survey data and other educational data is continuing and will help evaluate any ongoing impacts of the Hazelwood event.

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

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.

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 1 February 2019.

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/ 

2018 Community Engagement Session

The next Community Engagement Session will take place in Morwell on 22 August 2018. This will feature round table discussions between researchers, staff and the community.

During this session, we will be answering questions from the public, and we encourage everyone to submit a question. To have your questions considered, please fill in the form below, or email your questions to [email protected].

Please note, this is a free community event that is open to all. RSVPs are being collected for catering purposes and so that we can send reminders, but people are welcome to attend without registering first. To RSVP, please click here.

The Community Engagement Session will feature roundtables with key researchers focusing on:

  • Early Life Follow-up of Infants and Young Children
  • Psychological Impacts on Adults and School Children
  • Adult Impacts including Heart and Lung Health
  • Hazelinks analysis of Health Data, including Hospital and Ambulance data
  • Community Wellbeing and Older People

The event will be moderated by Gerard Callinan and the audience will have the opportunity to pose questions and discuss findings with study researchers.

Gerard has lived in Gippsland since 2000 when he began working with ABC Radio in Sale. During his time with the national broadcaster, he developed a reputation as a journalist who held those in power to account, while covering the local issues of the region including fires and floods.

We will also be joined by:

  • Jane Anderson (Latrobe Health Advocate)
  • Ian Needham (Executive Officer, Latrobe Health Assembly)
  • Bronwyn Green (Manager of Environmental Public Health, EPA Victoria)
  • Tony Murphy (Deputy Commissioner, Emergency Management Victoria)

Morwell Exhibition launched in State Parliament


Amidst the ornate splendour of Queen’s Hall in Victoria’s State Parliament, voices from the
Morwell community rang out clearly. The ‘Our Hopes for the Future of Morwell’ photographic
exhibition is on display at Queen’s Hall from 21 May until 24 May. The exhibition comprises twenty-
eight photographs of community groups and residents holding objects that symbolise their
hopes for the future of Morwell. Powerful and thought provoking photos that capture important issues as the community moves forward from the Hazelwood mine fire and closure.

Community groups and individuals were asked to think of an object that symbolised their hopes,big or small, for the future of Morwell and then to be photographed holding that object. Out of this process, under the consummate photographic eye of Clive Hutchinson from Gippsland Centre for Art and Design, 28 photos with their captions were produced. Morwell
Neighbourhood House facilitated the photo shoot and provided the venue.

Monday night’s launch was attended by many members of the community who participated in
creating the exhibition, and featured speeches by a number of guest speakers, including Dr
Matthew Carroll, Senior Research Fellow on the Health Study; Professor Helen Bartlett, Vice-
Chancellor and President of Federation University; Ms Tracie Lund, Coordinator of Morwell
Neighbourhood House; Ms Caitlin Grigsby, President of the Latrobe Roller Derby; and Ms
Harriet Shing, Member for Eastern Victoria.

Ms Lund spoke with conviction about Morwell Neighbourhood House’s commitment to
ensuring many voices from the community had a chance to be heard – a commitment shared
with the Federation University research team. Ms Grigsby spoke movingly about how this
exhibition had given their group the opportunity to re-imagine their future: “The Latrobe Valley
has hope, and so should our wider community. This exhibition is testament to that.”
Don’t miss this beautiful and thought-provoking visual display exploring what the future holds
for this community.

To view images of the event, please click here.