Respiratory FAQs

If you have any questions relating to the Respiratory stream lung function tests please read the FAQs below or call us on 1800 985 899.

What is the Respiratory Stream about?

The aims of the Respiratory Stream are to determine whether exposure to smoke from the Hazelwood coal mine fire is associated with respiratory symptoms, asthma control and lung inflammation, rate of decline in lung function and gas transfer and small airway function.

Who can participate in the Respiratory Stream?

Participants in the Respiratory Stream must have participated in the Adult Survey and must have been selected for the Respiratory Stream. Selection of participants is carried out by a biostatistician using a random selection process which ensures that:
• participants are chosen objectively,
• participants are representative of their wider community,
• Morwell participants are selected in the same way as Sale participants,
• adults of all ages are represented,
• adults with and without a history of respiratory disease are represented, and
• both smokers and non-smokers are represented.
The selected participants will receive an invitation mailed to the address they provided during the Adult Survey.

Can I participate in the Respiratory Stream if I wasn’t selected?

No. As described in the section above “Who can participate in the Respiratory Stream?”, selection of participants is carried out by a biostatistician using a random selection process that ensures the scientific validity of the study.
If we allowed people self-refer in to the study, this is likely to result in what is termed ‘selection bias’ whereby the participants in Morwell differ to the participants in Sale in ways other than their level of mine fire smoke exposure. Selection bias makes it much more difficult for the researchers to answer the research questions about the health effects of the mine fire event.

What does the Respiratory Stream appointment involve and how long does it take?

Participation involves attending a clinic in Morwell or Sale for approximately two and a half hours. The Respiratory Stream appointment will include:

  1. Completing questionnaires about your lung health, the use of any medications for your breathing and your smoking history.
  2. Measurement of nitric oxide in exhaled breath: This involves blowing a single breath into a machine which will measure a marker of inflammation in the lungs. Usually two or three measurements are taken.
  3. Measurements of lung function: Two tests looking at different parts of airway function will be measured. The first test involves normal breathing on a machine while sound waves are used to measure airway narrowing and stiffness. The second test looks at how well nitrogen (the main gas found in air) is cleared from the lungs. This test involves breathing through a machine for up to six minutes. Usually two to three measurements are made for each test.
  4. Spirometry: This widely used test measures how hard and fast you are able to blow air in and out of the lungs. Up to eight measurements may be made. This test will be performed before and after giving a commonly used asthma medication (Salbutamol, Ventolin™).
  5. Measurement of gas transfer: This test assesses how well gases such as oxygen can move from the lungs into the blood. This test involves breathing in a special gas mixture from a machine and holding your breath for a few seconds and then blowing back out into the machine. This test is usually performed two to three times. This test can be affected by the haemoglobin level in your blood. To measure this, a tiny drop of blood from your finger tip (like a blood glucose test) will be collected.

I am unwell, can I participate in the Respiratory Stream or Cardiovascular Stream testing?

You can participate in the Respiratory and Cardiovascular Streams if you took part in the Hazelwood Health Study Adult Survey and if you have been selected for the Respiratory or Cardiovascular Stream. If you have been selected you will receive an invitation letter mailed to the address that you provided in the Adult Survey. If you are not sure, you can call the researchers on 1800 985 899 to find out if you have been selected.

If you are unwell you should seek assistance from your local health service provider or general practitioner (GP).

The Hazelwood Health Study is not a health service provider. The Study uses standardised instruments to measure a limited set of health symptoms or signs which are specific to the research questions. The research is designed to measure changes in health at a population level and not at an individual level. For these reasons, the research cannot determine whether any individuals’ health was impacted by the mine fire smoke, or whether any particular treatment is recommended. Those decisions can only be made with a personalised medical consultation taking in to consideration your full medical history.

Why are only Morwell and Sale residents included in the testing?

Morwell was included because air pollution exposure modelling, conducted by the CSIRO, shows that Morwell was by far the town most exposed to smoke from the Hazelwood mine fire, with much lower exposure levels across other Latrobe Valley towns and beyond. Whilst there were many people from other towns who were impacted by the smoke, particularly those who worked in Morwell during the mine fire event, the highest exposure levels were experienced by Morwell residents who both worked and lived in the town for the duration of the event.

In contrast, the CSIRO modelling confirmed that Sale was minimally exposed to the mine fire smoke and selected areas of Sale were determined to be similar to Morwell in terms of their rural setting, age distribution and other socio-economic factors. These factors made Sale an ideal ‘comparison’ town which, at the time of the mine fire, should have had a similar health profile to that in Morwell.

By including these two towns in the Respiratory and Cardiovascular Streams, the researchers can compare the pattern of health in the ‘most’ exposed town against the pattern of health in a minimally exposed town, to measure the size/magnitude of the impact of the mine fire smoke.

The findings will then be used to estimate the impact of the mine fire smoke on people from other towns across the Latrobe Valley, including people who didn’t live in Morwell but worked there.

It should be noted that other Hazelwood Health Study research streams include participants from across the Latrobe Valley, not just Morwell. They include the Early Life Follow-up (ELF) Stream which includes the families of more than 500 infants from across the Latrobe Valley; the Schools Study which includes children from 20 schools across the Latrobe Valley; the Older People and Community Wellbeing Streams which conducted focus groups with people from across the Latrobe Valley; and Hazelinks which will access deidentified ambulance, hospital, cancer and death data for the Latrobe Valley and other parts of Victoria.

Why aren’t emergency services personnel included in the Hazelwood Health Study?

Emergency service personnel who lived in Morwell, or in selected areas of Sale, were eligible for the Hazelwood Health Study Adult Survey. If they took part in the Adult Survey and were selected for the Respiratory or Cardiovascular Stream, then they can participate in those streams.

In regard to firefighters in particular, a research study that is designed to measure the health effects from deployment to the Hazelwood mine fire as opposed to the health effects from the firefighters’ numerous other deployments (to fires, chemical spills, motor vehicle accidents, floods etc.), would be designed very differently to the Hazelwood Health Study. Such a study, requiring a detailed deployment history from every eligible firefighter, cannot be incorporated in to the current Hazelwood Health Study design.

If someone has died since the mine fire how is that person’s information collected?

This is very important health information that the Hazelwood Health Study needs to collect. That is why the Hazelinks Stream has been developed. Hazelinks will be collecting data on ambulance call outs, hospital emergency presentations, hospital admissions, cancer diagnoses and death records for the Latrobe Valley region and other parts of Victoria.

If I participate in the testing, how does that benefit me or my community?

Participants who participate in the Respiratory and Cardiovascular Streams will receive a $50 Woolworths gift card as reimbursement for their time, travel and inconvenience. The gift card can be used at outlets such as Woolworths supermarkets, Big W and Caltex petrol stations.

If your tests reveal any medical condition requiring further investigation or treatment, we will send you a letter with results to discuss with your GP.

This study will provide valuable new information about long-term or chronic respiratory health or cardiovascular health conditions in Morwell and Sale residents and any associated impact of the mine fire smoke. The findings will help inform the local community, their health service providers and the State of Victoria Department of Health and Human Service (DHHS) of the long-term health needs of the Latrobe Valley and wider area

If I participate in the testing, how is the privacy of my information protected?

All Respiratory Stream and Cardiovascular Stream procedures, including those in relation to the privacy and confidentiality of participant information, have been reviewed by the Monash University Human Research Ethics Committee. The Committee has approved the Respiratory Stream and Cardiovascular Stream procedures, satisfied that they meet the requirements of the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research and the various provisions of the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014.

More specifically, the privacy of participant information is protected in the following ways:

  • All participants are allocated a unique ID number in place of personal information such as name, date of birth and address.
  • Information which has been collect is entered into a de-identified database via the secure Hazelwood Health Study remote desktop.
  • Access to this remote desktop portal is only made available to authorised Study staff via a password-protected and secure login.
  • Data collected from participants is locked within a secure environment both physically (paper files) and electronically.
  • All staff who are involved conducting in the Hazelwood Health Study have been trained and understand the importance of confidentiality and privacy.
  • In addition, all Hazelwood Health Study staff have signed confidentiality agreements as part of their employment.

I lived in Morwell/Sale at the time of the mine fire but have now moved – am I still eligible?

Yes. If you participated in the Adult Survey and if you have been selected for the Respiratory or Cardiovascular research Streams, then you are eligible to participate. However, the testing will take place in clinics in Morwell and Sale only, so you may have to travel to take part. All participants receive a $50 gift card as reimbursement for time, travel and inconvenience.

What if I have a history of smoking or health conditions - am I still eligible?

Yes, information provided in the Adult Survey is used to ensure that people with, and without, a history of smoking or health conditions are included. Further information about these, and other health risk factors, will be collected as part of the Respiratory and/or Cardiovascular Stream appointments.

I didn’t have any exposure to the mine fire smoke, so is there any point in me participating?

It is important that the Hazelwood Health Study includes people with little or no exposure, or moderate exposure to the smoke, so that their health can be compared with that of people who had high levels of exposure to the smoke. It is important that every person who receives an invitation agrees to participate in the Study. If the Study only included people who felt that they had high levels of exposure then the Study would end up with a biased understanding of the impacts of the smoke event. Speaking to people with different levels of exposure will enable the Study to better understand the impacts of the smoke event across the entire community and the wider region.

The mine fire event didn’t affect my health, so is there any point in me participating?

It is important that the Hazelwood Health Study includes people who believe they have few or no health effects, as well as people who believe they have moderate or severe health effects from the mine fire smoke. It is important that every person who receives an invitation agrees to participate in the Study.  If the Study only included people who believe their health had been effected by the mine fire event then the Study would end up with a biased understanding of the impacts of the smoke event. Speaking to people with different health outcomes will enable the Study to better understand the impacts of the smoke event across the entire community and the wider region.

How will I be informed of the research results?

A core aspect of community engagement will be our commitment to providing regular updates to the community as the study progresses. We speak regularly with community groups and are keen to speak at other community events. We will provide regular newsletters, hold community briefings, as well as keep people updated through social media and our website at hazelwoodhealthstudy.org.au