An interim website for the Hazelwood mine fire health study has been established to keep the community informed, as researchers lay the groundwork for the mammoth project.
A headquarters is being set up at the Monash University School of Rural Health building at Latrobe Regional Hospital and is due to be open to the public by the end of January.
“I’m grateful we’ve got the opportunity to do something for the people of the Latrobe Valley to determine whether this particular fire has or has not had an effect on their health,” lead researcher Professor Michael Abramson said.
One of the first major elements of the study will be a post-exposure survey of those people living or working in Morwell at the time of the fire and the research team is calling for the community to participate.
Professor Abramson said ideally the research team hoped to survey the entire Morwell population of 14,000 people.
“The poorer the response rate, the less confident we can be that the people who are involved are truly representative of that community,” he said.
Questions for the survey are being finalised, but would include basic information like name and date of birth, smoker status, pre-existing health conditions and a location diary highlighting where people were throughout the fire period.
The research team hopes to start distributing the survey in a variety of ways in the first half of next year.
As part of the overall project a series of cohort studies will be carried out, focusing on cardiovascular conditions, respiratory conditions, psychological impacts, cancer, impacts on the elderly, child health and development and the impact on community wellbeing.
The study will be led by Monash University, with assistance from Federation University, the University of Tasmania, the University of Adelaide and the CSIRO.
Professor Abramson said the study would include a focus on people’s exposure to fine particulate matter known as PM2.5 which penetrates deep into the respiratory system.
“One of the issues of course is the (air pollution) measurements didn’t actually start in Morwell until a few days after the fire broke out,” Professor Abramson said.
“We don’t know how high exposures were in those first few days… that’s the work we’re going to do in collaboration with CSIRO.
“They are very experienced at atmospheric modelling. We just need to bring together that model with people’s location and then we can get an individual estimate of what people’s exposure was.”
The study has been commissioned by the Department of Health for an initial 10-year period, with a government commitment to continue it for at least a further decade.
? Community members can find out more about the study, register their interest to participate, or ask a question by visiting the temporary website www.med.monash.edu.au/hazelwood
A dedicated, permanent site is due to be established early in 2015.