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.

When and where to see the Our hopes for the future of Morwell Exhibition

An exhibition featuring the hopes and dreams of the Morwell community will make its way to the halls of the Victorian Parliament in May

Following a successful showing at Switchback Gallery in Churchill last year, the ‘Our hopes for the future of Morwell’ photographic exhibition will be showcased at Queen’s Hall from 21-25 May.

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

It will feature 28 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.

The exhibition will be open at the following times:

  • Monday 21 May, 12pm – 5pm
  • Tuesday 22 May, 9am – 5pm
  • Wednesday 23 May, 9am – 5pm
  • Thursday 24 May, 9am – 5pm
  • Friday 25 May, 9am – 11am

“Taking the exhibition to Spring Street 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.

“Featuring this exhibition at Victoria’s State Parliament will shine a much-needed positive light on this vibrant community, and will also show them that their voices are heard beyond the Latrobe Valley.”

There are plans for the exhibition to be shown in Dungog in the Hunter Valley later this year, and to put it on display locally in Morwell.

“The Latrobe Valley’s communities are innovative, close-knit and extraordinarily resourceful, and it’s important to recognise our strengths and opportunities through events like this exhibition,” Harriet Shing, Member for Eastern Victoria Region, said.

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.