Health study on cards

Victoria’s chief health officer Dr Rosemary Lester will soon announce the details of a study into the long-term health effects of the Hazelwood mine fire on the community.

On Friday Dr Lester conceded there was a knowledge gap.

“We know that we wouldn’t expect long-term health effects from short-term exposures,” Dr Lester said.

“Because this ran a little longer than your normal smoke from bushfires, there is relatively little in the literature about this sort of exposure, particularly coal mine fire exposure.”

Dr Lester said during the smoke crisis experts had analysed international literature and given her the “best possible advice” which she passed onto the community.

“The best possible advice was we wouldn’t expect any long-term health impacts from this event.”

Dr Lester said it would be up to the fire’s Board of Inquiry to determine whether she had done enough to warn the community, with which she would cooperate with fully.

“This has been for me a very unusual circumstance,” she said.

“It’s very unusual in public health generally in that there are plenty of coal mine fires, but most of them are not adjacent to communities.”

A community sample will be sought, but it’s not yet known how many residents would be involved in the study.

“It is very important that we get this right, that we don’t rush this, that we make sure we get absolutely the best information that we can to enable the proper analysis so we can get that published and add to the scientific literature on this,” Dr Lester said on Friday.

The announcement came as the community assessment centre, set up at Ambulance Victoria on Saskia Way since 21 February, ceased operation on Friday.

Paramedics and local nurses conducted more than 2000 free health assessments for residents concerned about the impacts of the smoke from the mine fire.

“I want to pay tribute to the work done by Ambulance Victoria, the work done by local nurses from hospitals around the area and also the input from community health nurses as well,” Health Minister David Davis said.