Death rates increased in Traralgon: VOTV

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Voices of the Valley has released new data which it claims shows death rates in Traralgon increased throughout the Hazelwood mine fire ordeal.

VOTV president Wendy Farmer is calling on the long-term mine fire health study to take into account surrounding communities and not just focus its work on Morwell.

When VOTV released data in September last year showing the increase in death rates, former state Health Minister David Davis rejected the evidence, saying premature deaths could have been caused by extreme temperatures and the influenza season.

Initial analysis of deaths data obtained from Births, Deaths and Marriages by the activist group indicated a high probability that 11 people had died as a result of the fire.

VOTV has since obtained a 10-year data set which has again been analysed by Queensland University of Technology associate professor and air pollution expert Adrian Barnett, who oversaw the previous data set.

According to VOTV, the new analysis shows there is a 94 per cent probability there was an increase in deaths in Traralgon and other towns in the 3844 postcode.

“The latest data provides some more clarity around the increased risk of death during the fire,” associate professor Barnett said.

“There does seem to be some variability in the effect of the fire across the region, and that may be due to differences in exposure or because people in some communities were alerted and evacuated and the others not.

“The most important missing information is the cause of death; if the majority of deaths were due to the known effects then that would provide further evidence that the pollution from the fire was responsible.”

Mrs Farmer implored those conducting the health study to ensure the study included all towns across the Latrobe Valley.

Head of Monash school of rural health and study co-principal investigator Professor Judi Walker said all available evidence would be taken into account to inform scientifically-based decisions.

“The scope of the study population is still being defined and a comparator population will be selected,” Professor Walker said.

“Eligibility criteria are being developed to guide recruitment of adults into the study.

“We want to make sure we are hearing directly from, and working in partnership, with the Latrobe Valley community.

“The study’s Community Advisory Committee will be consulted prior to decisions being finalised.”