Mine fire medical discovery

COMMUNITY fears of increased heart and lung conditions during the Hazelwood mine fire have been confirmed in Monash University data released today.

Researchers found the link using CSIRO smoke exposure levels along with Ambulance Victoria attendance data in the Latrobe Valley.

“The study found that ambulance call outs for cough, asthma, heart attack and heart failure during February and March 2014, were elevated in the areas of the Latrobe Valley with higher levels of smoke exposure,” Monash University Department of Epidemiology and Preventative Medicine researcher Martine Dennekamp said.

Recognising “heightened health sensitivities” during the period of the fire, Dr Dennekamp conceded some people may have been more likely to call an ambulance when they might not have otherwise.

“However, this was unlikely to explain all the increase in ambulance data,” she said.

Dr Dennekamp added research also accounted for seasonal and temperature changes.

Morwell and District Community Recovery Committee chair Caroline Boothman said she was not surprised by the findings given the anecdotal data in the community.

“This is an exciting time in the (Hazelwood Mine Fire) Health Study data and really confirms what locals knew at the time and gives us the evidence we need to advocate for the health support that we need,” Ms Boothman said.

Ms Boothman said she would like the data to be compared with Latrobe Regional Hospital admittance data, considering people presenting themselves to the emergency department.

She agreed there could have been some fear-based admittance, but also genuine cases.

“This certainly supports our need for a health study and ongoing support to all the people exposed to all levels of smoke,” Ms Boothman said.

The 20 year-long health study will continue to collect health information from the community.

The findings were presented at the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology conference in Rome, Italy last weekend.