One of the most experienced asbestos lawyers in Australia is advising Latrobe Valley residents to document their health problems amid the smoke crisis.
Slater and Gordon practice group leader in respiratory disease Steve Plunkett said smoke-affected residents should document their exact symptoms, how they were exposed and the amount of dust in their homes.
Mr Plunkett said Valley residents were “absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt” justified in their health concerns over the Hazelwood open cut fire.
“I’ve been doing respiratory disease for more than 30 years and any foreign particle dust is bad for you,” Mr Plunkett said.
“It’s brown coal, it’s got all sorts of carcinogens in it.
“It seems to me if it did turn out to be bad for people’s health, that authorities might have a case to answer in not acting quicker.”
The Department of Health Victoria’s chief health officer Dr Rosemary Lester last week moved to reassure the community, saying she did not expect to see significant long-term health impacts as a result of the air quality situation.
“For them to be saying it’s safe is nonsense, because they don’t even know what’s in it,” Mr Plunkett said.
“It wasn’t that long ago (people) were saying asbestos was fine and we all know what a debacle that turned out to be.”
Mr Plunkett said if the smoke was found to be harmful, the department’s comments could be found to be negligent.
The Morwell-based lawyer said his firm had received multiple phone calls from residents concerned because “they don’t know what they’re breathing in”.
“I myself am worried about it,” he said.
Mr Plunkett said air purifiers were operating in the Slater and Gordon Morwell office on George Street.
Maurice Blackburn Gippsland principal Gino Andrieri agreed concerned residents should keep records.
“It is a prudent measure, because if something eventuates and they’re diagnosed, the nature of these sorts of medical issues can occur years down the track,” Mr Andrieri said.
He said it was difficult to say whether claims would likely be made in future.
“You first have to prove something has been done wrong. How have the fires been managed? Could they have been put out earlier? Could the community have been warned earlier?” Mr Andrieri said.
“If something is arguably done wrong, you then still need to prove the smoke exposure has played a part in diagnosis and that’s where records become very important.”
He said along with documenting exposure and symptoms, concerned residents should visit their doctor.