Hazelwood Health Study completes baseline cancer analysis

Hazelwood Health Study researcher, Professor Malcolm Sim.

The Monash University-led Hazelwood Health Study has completed a crucial background analysis of cancers in Latrobe City and surrounding areas in the five-year period prior to the 2014 mine fire.

These results will provide a baseline against which to compare future cancer patterns that occur after the fire.

Monash University researcher Professor Malcolm Sim said the analysis showed a higher rate of mesothelioma in Latrobe City men prior to the mine fire compared to the average for regional and rural Victoria.

“The excess of mesothelioma in men in the Latrobe City is most likely due to past asbestos exposure, as this is the only known cause of mesothelioma found in Australia,” Professor Sim said.

“This may relate to past asbestos exposure in the power industry or other worksites in the region or domestic exposure due to asbestos-containing building materials.”

The Latrobe City area also displayed elevated levels of lung, liver and blood cancer in women and bladder cancer in men.

In contrast, there were no excess levels for any types of cancer in the surrounding regions, including Wellington Shire, Baw Baw, and South Gippsland council areas.

Some of these initial results may be due to chance findings, although this may be ruled out if the findings remain in future cancer data extractions.

However, Professor Sim said without further information on smoking rates, past bushfire smoke exposure and exposure to other possible carcinogens in the region, it was not possible to further investigate the relationship of such exposures to excess occurrences of these types of cancers.

The background analysis was based on cancer data extracted from the Victorian Cancer Registry, comparing cancer incidences for Latrobe City with those from the rest of rural and regional Victoria.

Further extractions will be repeated regularly for the duration of the study to monitor cancer trends following the mine fire, with a major report expected in the ninth year of the study.

Professor Sim said the Hazelwood Health Study was a useful vehicle for providing important results on a wide range of health effects related to other past exposures and health outcomes in the Latrobe Valley.

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

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

Study releases first findings from Adult Survey

Morwell residents reported higher levels of respiratory problems compared to Sale residents following the 2014 mine fire event, Hazelwood Health Study researchers have found. The finding was revealed in the first report from the Adult Survey which collected health information from 3,096 Morwell residents and 960 Sale residents between May 2016 and February 2017.

The survey was conducted in the comparison community of Sale because it had much less exposure to the mine fire smoke, but was comparable to Morwell in size, rural location, and population characteristics.

“The analysis of the Adult Survey provides the first available evidence of adverse cardiovascular, respiratory and psychological effects of the Hazelwood mine fire on the adults in Morwell,” Hazelwood Health Study Principal Investigator Michael Abramson said.

“Morwell residents were more likely to report that a doctor had diagnosed them with asthma since the mine fire. Also, among asthmatics, symptoms were reported to be more severe in Morwell than in Sale.”

Professor Abramson also said that since the mine fire, Morwell participants were one and a half times more likely than Sale participants to report that a doctor had diagnosed them with high blood pressure (6.6% in Morwell compared to 4.5% in Sale).

“Morwell residents were also seven times more likely to report that a doctor had diagnosed them with a heart attack since the mine fire. However, heart attack was reported by 1% of Morwell participants and only 0.1% of Sale participants, and findings based upon such small numbers should be interpreted with caution,” he said.

Hazelwood Health Study researcher Dr Matthew Carroll said while there were no significant differences prior to the fire in terms of history of stressful life events and mental health diagnoses, Morwell residents were more likely to report symptoms of distress following the event and more likely to report that a doctor had diagnosed them with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. However, again the findings were based on small numbers (1.4% in Morwell) and should also be interpreted with caution.

Professor Abramson said this report presented just broad differences between Morwell and Sale based on self-reported data.

“Future linkages to administrative health datasets (such as ambulance and hospital data) will complement the self-reported data. The Adult Survey findings will be further strengthened by analyses which blend CSIRO modelled air pollution data with participants’ location information, to measure any association between estimated individual mine fire smoke exposure and health outcomes,” Professor Abramson said.

More objective information about the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases following the mine fire will be provided by the Cardiovascular and Respiratory research streams.

The Adult Survey team thanked the Morwell and Sale communities for participating in the Adult Survey. It is recommended that people with any ongoing concerns about their health following the Hazelwood mine fire visit their General Practitioner.

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

A summary of these findings can be found here.

The full technical report can be found here.

Hospital admissions increase during Hazelwood mine fire

Hazelwood Health Study researchers have discovered an increase in emergency presentations and hospital admissions for respiratory diseases during the 2014 mine fire period.

However, there was no evidence of increased rates for cardiovascular disease, according to an analysis of emergency presentations and hospital admissions analysis. This analysis examined whether coal mine fire-related fine particles, such as particulate matter less than 2.5 thousandths of a millimetre in diameter (PM2.5), were associated with increased risks of emergency presentations or hospital admissions for cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

“We found the rates of emergency presentations and hospital admissions for asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and all respiratory diseases were higher during the coal mine fire period in comparison with the non-fire periods (30 days before and 30 days after the fire), but not for cardiovascular disease,” Hazelwood Health Study Principal Investigator Michael Abramson said.

“Attributable to the coal mine fire-related pollutants, there were estimated to be 14 emergency presentations for asthma and COPD, 22 emergency presentations for all respiratory diseases and 132 for all conditions included in the analysis.

“Of this number, Morwell residents counted for 9 emergency presentations for asthma and COPD, 14 for respiratory diseases and 83 for all conditions.”

Professor Abramson said this study showed some evidence that coal mine fire-related PM2.5 was significantly associated with increased risks of emergency presentations for asthma and COPD, and all respiratory diseases, but no significant association was found for cardiovascular diseases.

The study analysed daily concentrations of coal mine fire-related PM2.5 modelled by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the daily counts of hospital emergency department presentations and hospital admissions for the fire-impacted areas, between January 2009 and June 2015.

“This is the first study to examine the impacts of the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire on emergency presentations and hospital admissions. The study contributes to filling the knowledge gap which currently exists in this area of public health importance,” Professor Abramson said.

“This study is helpful to develop and implement effective and timely strategies to reduce respiratory health risks due to possible future coal mine fire air pollution exposure in the community.”

Further analysis will be conducted later this year to examine the effects of coal mine fire-related PM2.5 on ambulance call-outs, medical services and dispensing of medications, and to assess the effects of other air pollutants, particularly carbon monoxide, on health outcomes.

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

View a summary of these findings here.

View the full technical report here.

Share your hopes for the future of Morwell

The Hazelwood Health Study is calling on the community to take part in a photography exhibition that shares their hopes for the future of Morwell.
The ‘Our hopes for the future of Morwell’ exhibition will feature images of Morwell community members and groups holding a symbol that represents their hopes for the township.
The Monash University-led study is inviting the community to have their photo taken with their symbol at Morwell Neighbourhood House on Thursday 24 August from 10am to 12pm.
The photographic images will then be exhibited at Switchback Gallery, Churchill in November.
The project is a collaboration between the health study, Morwell Neighbourhood House and Gippsland Centre for Art and Design (Federation University).

photo credit: clive hutchison

Hazelwood Health Study begins adult lung assessments

Hazelwood Health Study respiratory scientist Annie Makar (right) runs the lung assessment through a series of tests with the help of Monash University post-graduate medical student Esther Johns.

Hazelwood Health Study respiratory scientist Annie Makar (right) runs the lung assessment through a series of tests with the help of Monash University post-graduate medical student Esther Johns.

Lung assessments of adults who lived in Morwell during the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire are underway.

The Hazelwood Health Study has begun randomly mailing out information packs to 500 people who completed the Adult Survey inviting them to take part in free, specialised lung assessments.

The two-and-a-half-hour-long visits aim to find out whether exposure to mine fire smoke is associated with respiratory symptoms, or changes in lung health or asthma management.

“We understand that the tests are time-consuming, but it is critically important that as many people as possible participate in the next phase of the Hazelwood Health Study,” HHS Respiratory Coordinator Brigitte Borg said.

“Whether young or old, well or unwell, we need you. Otherwise, the results may not give us an accurate picture of health effects associated with exposure to the mine fire. The study needs to include people who were in Morwell and Sale but not exposed to the mine fire event, just as much as people who were exposed.

“We also need healthy people as well as those with asthma or other known lung diseases.”

Almost 3100 adults in Morwell and 1000 comparison adults in Sale completed the Adult Survey, to which people responded to between May 2016 and February 2017.

The survey collected self-reported health and smoke exposure information. A sample of those who responded to the Adult Survey are being invited to participate in the lung health assessments.

The assessments will be held in the study clinic at Latrobe Community Health Services in Morwell from August to November 2017. At the clinic, residents will complete a series of simple breathing tests and surveys under the supervision of a trained respiratory scientist.

Residents who choose to take part in the free, specialised testing will be compensated for their time with a $50 gift card. Information on how to participate will be included in the mail-outs.

“We plan to invite residents who participate to undergo the same assessments on two further occasions; once in three years and again in six years from now,” Ms Borg said.

“This will help us look for changes in lung health over time. Those who choose to participate this time, however, will be under no obligation to participate in the future.”

Lung assessments will also be conducted in Sale from November 2017 to January 2018. 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.

For more information, or if you receive an information pack, phone 1800 985 899 or visit hazelwoodhealthstidy.org.au

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

Curiosity’s in the blood

bloodTesting for the clinical streams of the Hazelwood Health Study is about to get underway.
The Cardiovascular Stream is expected to include a full blood examination and the Respiratory Stream testing will measure Hemoglobin, the oxygen that carries protein inside red blood cells.
Blood is important for our body as it is pumped through our veins and arteries, transporting oxygen from our lungs to all of the other organs, tissues and cells that need it.
But that’s not all it does.
Click here to learn more about the vital fluid coursing through our veins.

Would you like to know more?

Learn more about the Cardiovascular Stream here.
Learn more about the Respiratory Stream here.

The Hazelwood Health Study needs your help

The view of the Morwell central business district near the town's train station and underpass.

The view of the Morwell central business district from the town’s train station and underpass.

The Hazelwood Health Study is looking for people who use or have used electronic cigarettes (also known as e-cigarettes or vaping) to provide feedback on a questionnaire we are developing.
The questionnaire takes about 5 minutes to complete and can be done over the phone.
At the end of the questionnaire, we will ask some questions regarding your understanding of the questions. No identifying information about you will be recorded.
If you are a current or past user of electronic cigarettes and are interested in helping us, please private message us using ‘e-cigarette questionnaire pilot’ as the first line, followed by your name and best contact phone number.
Alternatively, you can leave you details for one of our team to phone you back on 1800 985 899.

Key findings on the psychological impacts of the mine fire on students released

Morwell Central Primary School principal Justine Smyth and Hazelwood Health Study research Dr Matthew Carroll discuss the latest findings from the first round of the School Study.

Morwell Central Primary School principal Justine Smyth and Hazelwood Health Study researcher Dr Matthew Carroll discuss the latest findings from the first round of the Schools Study.

Students in Morwell reported more symptoms of distress following the Hazelwood mine fire than students outside the township, a Hazelwood Health Study research project has found.

The Schools Study, an arm of the long-term health study, looked at the psychological wellbeing and educational outcomes for students in 20 schools across the Latrobe Valley, targeting students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 in the year after the mine fire.

The document released this week is a summary of the key findings from the first round of the study, including a measure of childhood distress, the change in NAPLAN results from 2013 before the fire to the year after the fire, and what students said to the researchers in interviews.

“While most students reported little or no psychological symptoms from the mine fire, one quarter of the students reported increased levels of distress,” Schools Study lead researcher and Monash University Professor Darryl Maybery said.

The research found there was a strong age effect, with younger students reporting more symptoms of distress than older students. Research co-lead Dr Matthew Carroll said this increase in the year after the mine fire was not surprising given the scale of the Hazelwood event.

“We know from talking with students that many found it unpleasant and some were still reporting impacts such as feeling alarmed when they smelt smoke,” Dr Carroll said.

“On the flipside, some students reported positive outcomes such as more school trips and the opportunity to connect with students from other schools.”

The research team also found that Morwell students had a greater increase in NAPLAN scores, from the year before to the year after the fire, than non-Morwell students.

Now, over three years after the event, the researchers are particularly interested in assessing the students again. The Schools Study will be inviting students, who participated in the first round of the study and are now in years 5, 7 and 9, to complete another survey.

“We will also be inviting current year 3 students from the participating schools to take part. This will allow us to look at whether there are any ongoing impacts in a younger age group, those who were around 5 years old at the time of the fire,” Dr Carroll said.

“We really hope that everybody who is approached about the study agrees to participate as we need as many students as possible. We are writing to all participating parents and schools thanking them for their participation last time, providing a copy of the key results, and informing them about what is happening this year.”

Click here to read the summary report.
Click here to learn more about the Schools Study.

 

Latrobe Valley children helping the next generation

 

Latrobe Early Life Follow-Up project officer Melanie Reeves helps Branigan Kitwood with a simple breathing check.

Latrobe Early Life Follow-Up project officer Melanie Reeves helps Branigan Kitwood with a simple breathing check. photo credit: Anne Simmons, Latrobe Valley Express

A ground-breaking study tracking the impact of the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire on children has now health tested more than 100 participants.

But despite reaching the significant milestone, more Latrobe Valley children are needed to complete the health check.

The Latrobe Early Life Follow-up Study is the child health and development arm of the long-term Hazelwood Health Study.

Children whose parents completed the ELF survey last year are all eligible to have simple, free health tests that check on the progress of lung development and blood vessels in young children.

ELF Study organisers have been thrilled with the enthusiastic response from young participants and are hoping to test more.

“This is a ground-breaking study – there are no others like it in the world,” study manager Marita Dalton said.

“The children are helping us learn if long term health and development could have been influenced by the air pollution around the time of the coal fire.

“We want to learn how living through a bad, smoky period compares with other known risks for health, like, for example, living in the same house as people who smoke indoors.

“These things are not known right now and the children are helping us to find out.”

Ms Dalton said the health tests are offered in a family-friendly clinic at Latrobe Community Health Service in Morwell until late July.

While the tests are being completed, parents can read to their children and the child can select a toy to take home with them.

The study team thanked the wonderful children and parents for their support and they hope to see more families in the next month.

If all goes according to plan, the study will offer the same checks in 2020.

If you have completed the ELF survey but not enrolled your child for the health checks and wish to do so, phone the ELF Study hotline on 1800 322 102 or email [email protected]

The ELF Study is being conducted by the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania as part of the larger, Monash University-led Hazelwood Health Study.

Click here to learn more about the Latrobe Elf Study.

Related media coverage                                                       

Check-ups to gauge mine fire’s impact on kids | Latrobe Valley Express

More children needed to take part in Latrobe ELF Study (Bulletin 1) (Bulletin 2) | TRFM

 

Elf Study clinical assessments underway

Breathing and heart system checks are now underway at the Latrobe Community Health Service in Morwell. We have had a great response from parents of our young ELF participants and it has been great getting to meet many of you face-to-face! All participants who have agreed to take part in clinics have been sent a letter containing a unique log-in which can be used to make an appointment online. Melanie and Susan have also been busy on the phones making appointments.

If you haven’t already been contacted for a clinic booking you can call the Latrobe ELF Study support line on 1800 322 102, or email us at [email protected].

All clinic attendees receive a $25 Coles voucher, and the kids are kept smiling with a cute cuddly toy and book to take home.  Here are a couple of our happy customers!

ELF clinicals1ELF clinicals2

Click here to read what is involved in the breathing check.
Click here to read what is involved in the heart system check.