Hazelwood Health Study releases 2017 Annual Report

The Hazelwood Health Study 2017 Annual Report is now available.

The report provides a summary of progress made since the second Annual Report was submitted in November 2016, and includes a forecast on developments that are expected over the next few months.

Click here to download a full copy of the report.

For a copy of all other reports, including research reports, visit here.

Latrobe Valley children helping the next generation

Latrobe Early Life Follow-Up project officer Melanie Reeves helps Branigan Kitwood with a simple breathing check.

Latrobe Early Life Follow-Up project officer Melanie Reeves helps Branigan Kitwood with a simple breathing check. photo credit: Anne Simmons, Latrobe Valley Express

A ground-breaking study tracking the impact of the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire on children has now health tested more than 100 participants.

But despite reaching the significant milestone, more Latrobe Valley children are needed to complete the health check.

The Latrobe Early Life Follow-up Study is the child health and development arm of the long-term Hazelwood Health Study.

Children whose parents completed the ELF survey last year are all eligible to have simple, free health tests that check on the progress of lung development and blood vessels in young children.

ELF Study organisers have been thrilled with the enthusiastic response from young participants and are hoping to test more.

“This is a ground-breaking study – there are no others like it in the world,” study manager Marita Dalton said.

“The children are helping us learn if long term health and development could have been influenced by the air pollution around the time of the coal fire.

“We want to learn how living through a bad, smoky period compares with other known risks for health, like, for example, living in the same house as people who smoke indoors.

“These things are not known right now and the children are helping us to find out.”

Ms Dalton said the health tests are offered in a family-friendly clinic at Latrobe Community Health Service in Morwell until late July.

While the tests are being completed, parents can read to their children and the child can select a toy to take home with them.

The study team thanked the wonderful children and parents for their support and they hope to see more families in the next month.

If all goes according to plan, the study will offer the same checks in 2020.

If you have completed the ELF survey but not enrolled your child for the health checks and wish to do so, phone the ELF Study hotline on 1800 322 102 or email [email protected]

The ELF Study is being conducted by the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania as part of the larger, Monash University-led Hazelwood Health Study.

Click here to learn more about the Latrobe Elf Study.

Related media coverage                                                       

Check-ups to gauge mine fire’s impact on kids | Latrobe Valley Express

More children needed to take part in Latrobe ELF Study (Bulletin 1) (Bulletin 2) | TRFM

Call for new Community Advisory Committee members

Latrobe Valley and Sale community residents interested in the health outcomes of the Hazelwood mine fire are encouraged to apply for membership on the Hazelwood Health Study Community Advisory Committee.

Members have provided invaluable community insight in the first three years of the study and have worked together with residents and stakeholders to ensure issues of significance to the study are heard.

“By becoming a member of the committee, you have the opportunity to provide input into this world-first study and share its findings with the community,” Principal Co-Investigator Professor Judi Walker said.

“To ensure the team hears from as many people as possible, committee membership is for a fixed term and new committee members are now being sought.

“We are looking for a diverse range of people from many backgrounds to represent the Latrobe Valley and Sale communities on the committee.”

Expressions of interest are being sought from Latrobe Valley and Sale residents, the latter community having been selected as the comparison group for the adult health assessments. Committee positions are non-representative and voluntary.

Study membership includes up to six community members from the Latrobe Valley and up to four from Sale.

“The selection of the community members will be at the discretion of a selection committee to ensure equitable membership across the committee, including gender balance,” Professor Walker said.

This call for expressions of interest will close on Friday, 15 December 2017 with the first committee meeting of 2018 scheduled for the second week of February. Regular meetings are held during the year.

For more information about the call for expressions of interest, the committee or the Monash University-led Hazelwood Health Study, phone Dr Matthew Carroll on 5122 7604.

Hazelwood Health Study lung function tests continue

Hazelwood Health Study respiratory scientist Tom McCrabb (right) helps Morwell resident Ian Hamilton during one of the lung function tests.

The Hazelwood Health Study is encouraging Morwell residents invited to participate in lung function assessments to book their appointment today.

The lung function study, now into its sixth week of testing, has so far invited 300 Morwell residents who completed the Adult Survey to participate in the free, specialised lung assessments.

An additional 250 invitations will be mailed to Morwell Adult Survey participants shortly.

“So far, we have tested 75 Morwell residents. However, we need to test 340 residents to ensure we have sufficient data to give us an accurate picture of health effects associated with exposure to the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire,” Respiratory Coordinator Brigitte Borg said.

“We need invited community members to participate to help us reach our target.”

The assessments are being held in the Hazelwood Health Study clinic at Latrobe Community Health Services in Buckley Street, Morwell from now until November 2017.

The assessments, which can take up to 2.5 hours to complete, aim to find out whether exposure to the mine fire smoke is associated with respiratory symptoms, or changes in lung health or asthma management.

During the assessment, participants will complete surveys about their lung health and perform a series of simple breathing tests under the direction of a trained respiratory scientist.

Residents who choose to take part in the assessments will be compensated for their time with a $50 gift card. Information on how to participate is included in the mail-outs.

“Taking part in the lung function assessments is a great opportunity for the community to contribute to the Hazelwood Health Study,” HHS Community Advisory Committee member Shane Wilson said.

“Participating in these tests will help researchers understand if the mine fire smoke impacted our health and the health of future generations.”

Residents who receive the invitation packs should phone the study on 1800 985 899 to book an appointment. Residents who completed last year’s Adult Survey but have since changed address, can phone the recruitment team to find out if they were randomly chosen to participate and also update their address.

More information about the study can be found at www.hazelwoodhealthstudy.org.au

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

Hazelwood Health Study closing in on assessment target

Sale resident Marion Hector completing a questionnaire during the heart and blood vessel assessment.

The Hazelwood Health Study is urging Sale residents invited to participate in heart and blood vessel assessments to book an appointment today.

The study has been assessing participants in Sale since October with testing to end mid-January.

The study is closing in on its target of 165 assessments having tested over 150 residents to date.

“We have had a fantastic response from Sale residents and thank the community for their support,” researcher Brigitte Borg said.

“But we still need residents who have been invited to participate to phone our bookings team on 1800 985 899 and make an appointment.”

The aim of this phase is to take a snapshot of the health of the hearts and blood vessels of adults living in Sale.

Participation involves attending the Hazelwood Health Study Clinic at Central Gippsland Health Service in Sale for two hours.

The appointment will include completing questionnaires, measurements and tests administered by trained researchers in private rooms.

Residents who take part in the assessments will receive a $50 gift card for their time and inconvenience. Information on how to participate will be included in the mailed invitations.

Participants will then be invited to repeat the same assessments on two further occasions; once in three years and again in six years from now.

Sale was selected as the comparison community because it was only minimally exposed to the mine fire smoke and was comparable to Morwell in size, rural location and population characteristics.

Once testing ends in Sale it will relocate to Morwell where a further 300 assessments are expected to take place. Lung function assessments, which have been taking place in Morwell since August, will then start taking place in Sale from mid-January with letters to eligible residents going out later this month.

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

Report: Ambulance call outs increased during mine fire

Image courtesy of Monash Rural Health Latrobe Valley and West Gippsland

New findings from the Hazelwood Health Study (HHS) show an overall increase in ambulance attendances during the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire period.

Using data supplied by Ambulance Victoria for Morwell and surrounding towns, the analysis showed a 15% increased likelihood of ambulance attendances for all conditions during the mine fire period when compared to other times before and after the mine fire.

“When we looked into respiratory conditions specifically, we found there was a 41% increase in ambulance attendances during the mine fire period, compared to ambulance attendances before and after the mine fire,” HHS researcher Associate Professor Yuming Guo said.

“This corresponds to an estimated total of 236 attendances for all conditions and 42 attendances for respiratory conditions associated with the mine fire during the mine fire period.”

“We also wanted to know if there was an association between ambulance attendances and daily pollution levels. By mapping changes in air pollution levels onto ambulance use, we found that increases in the levels of mine fire related air pollution increased ambulance attendances for respiratory conditions.”

HHS Principal Investigator, Professor Michael Abramson cautioned that although “the study adjusted for other factors, such as seasonality, day of the week and public holidays, there were unknown factors that could not be controlled for, such as the proportion of population leaving the area.”

Researchers from the Monash University-led Hazelwood Health Study will be conducting further analyses using ambulance attendances, hospital admissions, emergency presentations and cancer datasets.

For more information about the Hazelwood Health Study, visit hazelwoodhealthstudy.org.au This research was funded by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services.

To view a summary of these findings, visit http://hazelwoodhealthstudy.org.au/study-findings/fact-sheets-and-summaries/ or to download the full technical report, visit http://hazelwoodhealthstudy.org.au/study-findings/study-reports/ 

Hazelwood Health Study begins adult lung assessments

Hazelwood Health Study respiratory scientist Tom McCrabb (right) helps Morwell resident Ian Hamilton during one of the lung function tests.

Lung assessments of adults who lived in Morwell during the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire are underway.

The Hazelwood Health Study has begun randomly mailing out information packs to 500 people who completed the Adult Survey inviting them to take part in free, specialised lung assessments.

The two-and-a-half-hour-long visits aim to find out whether exposure to mine fire smoke is associated with respiratory symptoms, or changes in lung health or asthma management.

“We understand that the tests are time-consuming, but it is critically important that as many people as possible participate in the next phase of the Hazelwood Health Study,” HHS Respiratory Coordinator Brigitte Borg said.

“Whether young or old, well or unwell, we need you. Otherwise, the results may not give us an accurate picture of health effects associated with exposure to the mine fire. The study needs to include people who were in Morwell and Sale but not exposed to the mine fire event, just as much as people who were exposed.

“We also need healthy people as well as those with asthma or other known lung diseases.”

Almost 3100 adults in Morwell and 1000 comparison adults in Sale completed the Adult Survey, to which people responded to between May 2016 and February 2017.

The survey collected self-reported health and smoke exposure information. A sample of those who responded to the Adult Survey are being invited to participate in the lung health assessments.

The assessments will be held in the study clinic at Latrobe Community Health Services in Morwell from August to November 2017. At the clinic, residents will complete a series of simple breathing tests and surveys under the supervision of a trained respiratory scientist.

Residents who choose to take part in the free, specialised testing will be compensated for their time with a $50 gift card. Information on how to participate will be included in the mail-outs.

“We plan to invite residents who participate to undergo the same assessments on two further occasions; once in three years and again in six years from now,” Ms Borg said.

“This will help us look for changes in lung health over time. Those who choose to participate this time, however, will be under no obligation to participate in the future.”

Lung assessments will also be conducted in Sale from November 2017 to January 2018. Sale was selected as the comparison community because it was only minimally exposed to the mine fire smoke and was comparable to Morwell in size, rural location and population characteristics.

For more information, or if you receive an information pack, phone 1800 985 899 or visit hazelwoodhealthstidy.org.au

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

Related News

27 October 2017 – Heart and blood vessel tests underway in Sale

The role of social media during the Hazelwood mine fire

Social media played a vital role filling in the information gaps during the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire, the Hazelwood Health Study has found.

Researchers studied how community-initiated Facebook groups emerged during the mine fire event and were used by the community to comment on the emergency response and to share a range of self-sourced information.

The study focused on three Facebook groups that became active during the 2014 mine fire – The Air that we Breathe, Occupy Latrobe, and Voices of the Valley.

“A key theme to come from the research is the close relationship between the quality of the information provided during the emergency and the extent to which organisations are trusted,” researcher Dr Sue Yell said.

“The community perceived official information sources as inadequate and untrustworthy, and used social media to fill the information gap.

“While social media can fill an information gap, it can also sometimes confuse rather than inform.”

Social media’s role in community empowerment and engagement was another key theme to appear from the research.

“Social media during the mine fire was used to fulfil an advocacy role and a watchdog function, holding organisations to account on matters of public safety,” Dr Yell said.

“Community groups also formed and organised themselves using social media. However, conflicts and disagreements also occurred within these groups.”

She said there was a division over whether the prominent voices on social media could speak on behalf of the community.

“Social media can empower communities but they can’t necessarily overcome existing divisions,” Dr Yell said.

The study will next look at the principles for optimal communication in events similar to the mine fire. These principles will be provided to organisations to help inform and improve their crisis communication policies.

“A better understanding of how communities use social media during a disaster can help inform the way government departments and emergency managers communicate with a community during a disaster, and can assist them to improve their own use of social media,” Dr Yell said.

This analysis was conducted by Federation University Australia researchers as part of the larger, Monash University-led Hazelwood Health Study.

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

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.