Hazelwood Health Study scope in hands of inquiry

A decision on whether the study into the long-term health effects of the Hazelwood mine fire should include non-Morwell residents looks likely to be left in the hands of the reopened Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry.

Earlier this month the Morwell and Districts Community Recovery Committee expressed its disappointment non-Morwell residents could not take part, particularly those whose services were required in Morwell as a result of the fire.

Lead researcher on the study, Professor Judi Walker said while the scope had largely been set, it would be possible to include other groups such as police and firefighters who were stationed in Morwell during the fire, but this would require more funding.

The Express last week asked Health Minister Jill Hennessy’s office whether the government would consider providing such funding.

A spokeswoman did not specify whether or not it would boost the funding, instead referring to the reopening of the inquiry.

“The Andrews Labor Government reopened the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry because the community deserves to know what impact the fire had on their health and what mine rehabilitation needs to be undertaken to ensure such a catastrophe doesn’t occur again,” the government statement read.

“The inquiry will hand down its report in December and the government will consider its findings.”

Recovery committee chair Carolyne Boothman said the committee had raised the issue with the reopened inquiry.

“I can’t anticipate what their recommendation would be,” Ms Boothman said.

“In the meantime the Community Recovery Committee is going to continue advocating to the minister’s office that the study includes non-Morwell residents working in the mine and CBD at the time.”

In its submission and recommendations to the board of inquiry, following health hearings earlier this month, counsel assisting the inquiry noted the issue as a matter for further investigation, stating the range of people exposed to the mine fire extended beyond Morwell residents at the time.

In particular, those who worked in the town at the time, including emergency responders to the fire were “potentially heavily exposed”, it stated.

A large aspect of the overall study – a survey of adults, along with respiratory and cardiovascular studies – currently excludes non-Morwell residents from participating.

Ms Walker highlighted that some elements of the overall study would include participation by the entire Latrobe Valley, including the early life follow-up and the schools study.

Professor Walker said the community wellbeing study would cover an even larger area.