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.

Call for new Community Advisory Committee members

Latrobe Valley and Sale community residents interested in the health outcomes of the Hazelwood mine fire are encouraged to apply for membership on the Hazelwood Health Study Community Advisory Committee.

Members have provided invaluable community insight in the first three years of the study and have worked together with residents and stakeholders to ensure issues of significance to the study are heard.

“By becoming a member of the committee, you have the opportunity to provide input into this world-first study and share its findings with the community,” Principal Co-Investigator Professor Judi Walker said.

“To ensure the team hears from as many people as possible, committee membership is for a fixed term and new committee members are now being sought.

“We are looking for a diverse range of people from many backgrounds to represent the Latrobe Valley and Sale communities on the committee.”

Expressions of interest are being sought from Latrobe Valley and Sale residents, the latter community having been selected as the comparison group for the adult health assessments. Committee positions are non-representative and voluntary.

Study membership includes up to six community members from the Latrobe Valley and up to four from Sale.

“The selection of the community members will be at the discretion of a selection committee to ensure equitable membership across the committee, including gender balance,” Professor Walker said.

This call for expressions of interest will close on Friday, 15 December 2017 with the first committee meeting of 2018 scheduled for the second week of February. Regular meetings are held during the year.

For more information about the call for expressions of interest, the committee or the Monash University-led Hazelwood Health Study, phone Dr Matthew Carroll on 5122 7604.

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.

ELF Study participants to be thanked at special Hazelwood Health Study event in Morwell

LATROBE Valley families whose children took part in the Early Life Follow-Up (ELF) Study earlier this year will be thanked at a special party at Tribes play centre in Morwell on Friday 24 November.

The ‘Thank You Party’ will be hosted by the ELF Study, the child health and development arm of the Hazelwood Health Study.

“We would love to thank the Latrobe Valley families who together helped us complete 263 health checks, 552 surveys and more than 2000 monthly health diary entries,” Latrobe ELF Project Manager Marita Dalton said.

“As a sign of our gratitude, we want to meet with the families and say thank you.

“We were thrilled with the response to the study by Latrobe Valley families – they are helping us learn if long-term health and development could have been influenced by the air pollution around the time of the Hazelwood mine fire.”

At the party, families will have the opportunity to meet with study staff and other participants, enjoy some free snacks and enter prize draws.

Participants who complete their monthly dairies and return their soil and dust packs will be eligible for special prize draws of $50 gift vouchers.

The ‘Thank You Party’ will be held from 2.45pm to 5.30pm at Tribes play centre at 107-111 Crinigan Road, Morwell.

All ELF Study children and their families are invited to the free event.

To RSVP, phone 1800 322 102 or email [email protected] by Friday 17 November.

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

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

Heart and blood vessel tests underway in Sale

Hazelwood Health Study staff Karen Kilpatrick and Liz Dewar help Sale participant Bill Redmond during the cardiovascular assessment.

Heart and blood vessel assessments of adults who lived in Sale during the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire are underway.

The Hazelwood Health Study has selected about 1000 of the 4100 Morwell and Sale residents who completed the previous Adult Survey, to participate in the free, specialised cardiovascular health assessments.

Invites have been mailed out to selected Sale residents with testing beginning on Thursday.

The aim is to find out whether exposure to mine fire smoke has affected the heart and blood vessels of adults living in Morwell compared to adults living in Sale.

HHS cardiovascular spokesman Dr Dion Stub said Sale was chosen as a comparison community because it was only minimally exposed to the smoke but was comparable to Morwell in size, rural location, and population characteristics.

“The participants in Sale are very important. Not only does their participation help the researchers measure the impact of the mine fire smoke, it also provides vital information about the cardiovascular health profile in Sale itself. This helps to guide long-term health service needs specific to the Sale area,” Dr Stub said.

Dr Stub said “to ensure the study gets accurate results as many of the selected Sale residents as possible must participate; whether they are well or unwell.

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. Blood pressure, electrical activity of the heart measured by ECG and blood cholesterol are examples of the tests included.

The selected residents who agree to take part in the testing will receive a $50 gift card for their time and inconvenience. Information on how to participate will be included in the mailed invitations.

The study will then invite participants to repeat the same assessments on two further occasions; once in three years and again in six years from now.

Residents who receive the invitation packs should phone the study on 1800 985 899 to book an appointment. Residents who completed the previous Adult Survey but have since changed address, can phone the recruitment team to find out if they were randomly chosen to participate and also update their address.

This research is funded by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services. For more information about the Monash University-led Hazelwood Health Study, visit

Related News

10 August 2017 – Hazelwood Health Study begins adult lung assessments

Students needed for Hazelwood Health Study research

Dr Matthew Carroll and his team of researchers will be recruiting a new group of grade three students during the next round of data collection.

Hazelwood Health Study researchers are returning to Latrobe Valley schools to explore the longer-term health impact of the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire on school-aged children.

This year’s round of data collection follows on from an earlier release of key findings from the Schools study where researchers investigated child distress, the change in NAPLAN results from the year before and after the fire and what students said to researchers.

As part of the next stage of data gathering, researchers are keen to recruit a new group of grade three students.

By recruiting this new group, researchers are planning to explore the longer-term impacts of the Hazelwood mine fire in even younger children.

“We understand that it may seem like a long time since the mine fire, but it is important that as many children participate as possible, even if parents don’t think they were impacted by the smoke,” researcher Dr Matthew Carroll said.

The Schools Study, part of the long-term health study, is looking at whether children exposed to the smoke from the mine fire have higher levels of distress than children with less exposure to the smoke. The study is also looking at impacts on education and other outcomes.

Carolyne Boothman, a local teacher and member of the HHS Community Advisory Committee, is particularly keen to see as many children as possible participate in the study.

“As a teacher I saw the effects on students at the time – not just the exposure to the smoke, but also the disruption to their everyday routine of school, relocation and the ongoing stress over the 45 days,” Ms Boothman said.

“It is vital that we ensure our children’s wellbeing is closely monitored as they grow and develop.

“Through their involvement in the health study we will be able to provide much better support and evidence that we will need to advocate for the wider community.”

Families involved in the Schools Study will receive a $25 gift card for their time and any inconvenience caused.

The study is taking place in 18 local schools which support the study and are in the process of writing to all families of grade 3 children inviting them to participate.

The study is funded by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services. For more information about the study, visit or

Hazelwood Health Study hosts information night in Morwell

Latrobe Valley community members attended an engagement session in Morwell to learn more about the latest fundings and research from the Hazelwood Health Study.

Moderated by former ABC Gippsland presenter Gerard Callinan, the night featured an interview between Mr Gerard and HHS principal investigators Michael Abramson and Judi Walker about the study which included questions from the audience.

The session then broke up into small, roundtable discussions dedicated to each field of research that contributes to the study, led by the researchers.

A second and final community engagement session will be held at the Bond Street Event Centre in Sale tonight at 6.30pm.


Engage with the Hazelwood Health Study

The Hazelwood Health Study is inviting Latrobe Valley and Sale residents to back-to-back community engagement sessions next week.

The engagement evenings will be held at the Morwell Bowling Club on Monday 9 October and at the Bond Street Event Centre in Sale on Tuesday, 10 October.

Former ABC Radio presenter Gerard Callinan will moderate the sessions which will, for the first time, feature roundtable discussions between study researchers, staff and the community. HHS Co-Principal Investigator Professor Judi Walker said the discussions will focus on what the study has achieved and how the recent findings can be used to benefit the community.

“Not only are the sessions an opportunity for us to talk about the world-first study, its latest findings and where we are headed to next, but more importantly a chance for curious residents to sit with researchers and ask us questions about our work,” Professor Walker said.

HHS Community Advisory Committee representative Shane Wilson said the community had many questions about the study and the engagement session was the ideal forum to get answers.

“The Hazelwood Health Study has been working diligently for about three years, but for many community members they do not get to see the hard work that is happening behind the scenes,” Mr Wilson said.

“The researchers and staff at the study want to share their findings and discuss the research underway with the community – this is the perfect opportunity to bring your questions and thoughts to the study’s attention. They are ready and happy to answer your questions.”

Community representative from Sale Ruth Churchill said the findings had major implications for not only the Latrobe Valley, but the Sale community, and urged residents to attend the engagement sessions.

“The study’s results can be used to guide health service providers in both the Sale and Latrobe Valley communities. Sale may have been much less impacted by the mine fire, but it plays a crucial role in this study,” Ms Churchill 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 CSIRO.

The study is funded by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services. For more information about the study, visit or

Hazelwood Health Study lung function tests continue

Hazelwood Health Study respiratory scientist Tom McCrabb (right) helps Morwell resident Ian Hamilton during one of the lung function tests.

The Hazelwood Health Study is encouraging Morwell residents invited to participate in lung function assessments to book their appointment today.

The lung function study, now into its sixth week of testing, has so far invited 300 Morwell residents who completed the Adult Survey to participate in the free, specialised lung assessments.

An additional 250 invitations will be mailed to Morwell Adult Survey participants shortly.

“So far, we have tested 75 Morwell residents. However, we need to test 340 residents to ensure we have sufficient data to give us an accurate picture of health effects associated with exposure to the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire,” Respiratory Coordinator Brigitte Borg said.

“We need invited community members to participate to help us reach our target.”

The assessments are being held in the Hazelwood Health Study clinic at Latrobe Community Health Services in Buckley Street, Morwell from now until November 2017.

The assessments, which can take up to 2.5 hours to complete, aim to find out whether exposure to the mine fire smoke is associated with respiratory symptoms, or changes in lung health or asthma management.

During the assessment, participants will complete surveys about their lung health and perform a series of simple breathing tests under the direction of a trained respiratory scientist.

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

“Taking part in the lung function assessments is a great opportunity for the community to contribute to the Hazelwood Health Study,” HHS Community Advisory Committee member Shane Wilson said.

“Participating in these tests will help researchers understand if the mine fire smoke impacted our health and the health of future generations.”

Residents who receive the invitation packs should phone the study on 1800 985 899 to book an appointment. Residents who completed last year’s Adult Survey but have since changed address, can phone the recruitment team to find out if they were randomly chosen to participate and also update their address.

More information about the study can be found at

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

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 summaries, or to view the full technical report, visit reports

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