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.