While the Hazelwood mine fire event was adjacent to the town of Morwell, the smoke plume covered a much broader area extending across the Latrobe Valley and beyond. As a result, the study research streams have targeted different areas in order to assess the potential impacts. The aims of each stream determined where the participants were drawn from, with some streams targeting Morwell, others the entire Latrobe Valley, and others further into Gippsland and beyond. The areas being targeted by each stream are outlined below:
Adult Survey and associated health assessments
For the Adult Survey and the associated health assessments it was important that we focused on the area which received the highest exposure level to maximise our chance of identifying significant health outcomes. Modelling by the CSIRO has shown that Morwell received the highest exposure levels, with less exposure in the surrounding Latrobe Valley towns, and less again in the communities more distant.
The health outcomes in Morwell have been compared with those in Sale, which was identified as having a comparable socio-demographic profile to Morwell, but less exposure to the smoke from the Hazelwood mine fire. The findings from this work, coupled with the detailed exposure modelling for the entire area, will enable us to estimate the health outcomes for wider region.
The Latrobe ELF Study
This stream covers the entire Latrobe Valley, in order to recruit a large enough sample. Young children and babies, including those who were in utero during the smoke event, are being compared with a group of young children from the same area but born after the smoke event.
The Schools Study assessed the psychological impact of the smoke event on school-aged children across schools with differing levels of smoke exposure. Schools in Morwell were the major focus, including those schools that evacuated to other sites in Moe/Newborough during the smoke event. The wellbeing and educational outcomes of these children has been compared with those in schools elsewhere in the Latrobe Valley. Further analysis of NAPLAN educational outcome data will look at the impacts for the wider region.
Older people policy review
This stream focused on older people, their carers and the organisations that supported them during and following the mine fire. The focus was primarily on those who were most exposed in Morwell but may also included discussion with people from the surrounding communities.
This stream involves interviews and focus groups with community members and stakeholders involved in the community recovery activities. While it focuses on Morwell, it will also includes discussions with people from the surrounding communities. In addition, an ongoing media analysis will be undertaken by searching the archives of local, national and international newspapers, online news media and social media postings. The Community Wellbeing barometer will make use of existing data sources for Morwell, Latrobe Valley, and the wider region.
The above streams are mostly based on working directly with local residents, from infants and their parents up to older people and the community more broadly. This will provide an incredibly rich understanding of the health impacts of the smoke event. Another important component of the study is the Hazelinks Stream which makes use of health records such as those collected by local hospitals, ambulance service, Medicare, cancer registries and death registries. These datasets provide important health information for the wider Gippsland area, covering the years leading up to and following the fire event.