Health study gathering steam

Researchers are about to embark on the first in a series of cohort studies as part of the Hazelwood Health Study.

In the next couple of weeks they will begin to probe the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire’s impact on older people and review the policy decisions made in regard to the elderly community.

“We’ll be inviting people to participate in group discussions and interviews,” co-principal investigator Professor Judi Walker said.

“It’s a small, but very important part of the study.”

A community wellbeing study will start in July, while a school study will begin in term three.

Professor Walker said the ‘Early Life Follow-up’ study would start in September.

It will investigate whether smoke from the fire affected the health and development of babies and children in the years following the incident.

The project team is currently laying the groundwork for a mammoth survey of adults living in Morwell at the time of the fire.

“We’ve just got the ethics approval and we’re almost ready to identify the comparison community,” Professor Walker said.

She said a tender would be put out for an organisation to run a computer assisted telephone survey.

“We’ll also have a version available on the website and then, I suspect we’ll have to go knocking on doors.”

Researchers ideally hope to get responses from the entire population of Morwell.

The survey is expected to take 18 months to complete.

Other targeted areas of study will be cardiovascular conditions, respiratory conditions, psychological impacts and cancer.

Professor Walker said some study streams would focus on Morwell, while others would cover the entire Latrobe Valley.

She said the decisions about which areas would be the focus for each stream were based on air pollution exposure modelling conducted by the team.

“For example the adult survey and the associated health assessments will focus on Morwell,” Professor Walker said.

“It is important to focus on Morwell as it received the highest exposure level, this will maximise the chance of identifying significant health outcomes.”

The study is led by Monash University, with assistance from Federation University, the University of Tasmania, the University of Adelaide and the CSIRO.

It has been commissioned by the Department of Health for an initial 10 years, with a government commitment to continue it for at least a further decade.

A dedicated website for the study was launched this week.

Anybody interested in contacting researchers or taking part in the study, should visit