Morwell residents reported higher levels of respiratory problems compared to Sale residents following the 2014 mine fire event, Hazelwood Health Study researchers have found. The finding was revealed in the first report from the Adult Survey which collected health information from 3,096 Morwell residents and 960 Sale residents between May 2016 and February 2017.

The survey was conducted in the comparison community of Sale because it had much less exposure to the mine fire smoke, but was comparable to Morwell in size, rural location, and population characteristics.

“The analysis of the Adult Survey provides the first available evidence of adverse cardiovascular, respiratory and psychological effects of the Hazelwood mine fire on the adults in Morwell,” Hazelwood Health Study Principal Investigator Michael Abramson said.

“Morwell residents were more likely to report that a doctor had diagnosed them with asthma since the mine fire. Also, among asthmatics, symptoms were reported to be more severe in Morwell than in Sale.”

Professor Abramson also said that since the mine fire, Morwell participants were one and a half times more likely than Sale participants to report that a doctor had diagnosed them with high blood pressure (6.6% in Morwell compared to 4.5% in Sale).

“Morwell residents were also seven times more likely to report that a doctor had diagnosed them with a heart attack since the mine fire. However, heart attack was reported by 1% of Morwell participants and only 0.1% of Sale participants, and findings based upon such small numbers should be interpreted with caution,” he said.

Hazelwood Health Study researcher Dr Matthew Carroll said while there were no significant differences prior to the fire in terms of history of stressful life events and mental health diagnoses, Morwell residents were more likely to report symptoms of distress following the event and more likely to report that a doctor had diagnosed them with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. However, again the findings were based on small numbers (1.4% in Morwell) and should also be interpreted with caution.

Professor Abramson said this report presented just broad differences between Morwell and Sale based on self-reported data.

“Future linkages to administrative health datasets (such as ambulance and hospital data) will complement the self-reported data. The Adult Survey findings will be further strengthened by analyses which blend CSIRO modelled air pollution data with participants’ location information, to measure any association between estimated individual mine fire smoke exposure and health outcomes,” Professor Abramson said.

More objective information about the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases following the mine fire will be provided by the Cardiovascular and Respiratory research streams.

The Adult Survey team thanked the Morwell and Sale communities for participating in the Adult Survey. It is recommended that people with any ongoing concerns about their health following the Hazelwood mine fire visit their General Practitioner.

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

A summary of these findings can be found here.

The full technical report can be found here.