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 need to target different areas in order to assess the potential impacts. The aims of each stream determine where the participants will be 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 is important that we focus on the area which received the highest exposure level as this will maximise our chance of identifying significant health outcomes. Initial 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 outcomes in Morwell will be compared with those in Sale, which has been 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 will cover the entire Latrobe Valley, in order to recruit a large enough sample. Infants, including those who were in utero during the smoke event, will be compared with a group of infants from the same area born after the smoke event.
The Schools Study will assess the psychological impact of the smoke event on school-aged children across schools with differing levels of smoke exposure. Schools in Morwell will be a 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 will be compared with those in schools elsewhere in the Latrobe Valley, and potentially beyond.
Older people policy review
This stream will target older people, their carers and the organisations that support them. The focus will primarily be on those who were most impacted in Morwell but may also include 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 will focus on Morwell, it will also include discussions with people from the surrounding communities. In addition, a media analysis will be undertaken by searching the archives of local, national and international newspapers, online news media and social media postings.
Monitoring broader health outcomes
All the above streams are 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 potential impacts of the smoke event. Another important component of the study will make use of health records collected by local hospitals, ambulance service, etc. Approval will be sought to access anonymous information from key health datasets for the wider Gippsland area, covering the years leading up to and following the fire event. This will enable the team to identify health outcomes for the broader region.