Hazelwood mine fire report: health recommendations welcome but prevention is better than cure

Today’s report from the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry contains some welcome recommendations, but does not go far enough.

This part of the Inquiry looked at “short, medium and long term measures to improve the health of the Latrobe Valley communities having regard to any health impacts identified by the Board as being associated with the Hazelwood Coal Mine Fire”.

“The Inquiry found that it was likely that there was an increase in deaths during Hazelwood coal mine fire, and the fire was the likely cause of this increase. The government needs to ensure that it allocates enough resources to the Latrobe Valley to ensure the serious health impacts of the coal mine fire are understood and addressed.”  said Phil Hill, Clean Air Lawyer at Environmental Justice Australia.
 
“Air pollution monitoring in the Latrobe Valley is woefully inadequate compared to other industrial regions in Australia.  For instance, the Gladstone region has about 50,000 people and 7 air pollution monitoring sites.  The Latrobe Valley has around 125,000 people and between 1-3 monitoring stations, varying from year to year.  Industry data is accessible to the community at the discretion of polluting industries and is not integrated into the EPA monitoring data.” he continued.
 
“The coal mines and power stations in the Latrobe Valley have the potential to continue to impact people’s health through air pollution. The people have a right to know what is in their air, so they can make informed decisions about their health.” said Wendy Farmer, President of community group Voices of the Valley.
 
“There needs to be a dispersed network of monitors, to monitor the air where people are actually breathing it.” she continued.
 
“While we welcome these important recommendations and think they will improve the health of people in the Valley, the issues of monitoring of air quality was not addressed. The recommendation for analysis of ash did not go far enough. People living with ash falling into their homes from roof cavities need to know that they no longer will have to just live with it and it will be removed, it is not their ash and they shouldn’t have to just live with it.” she went on.
 
“We need to know that the Government will implement the recommendations of the Inquiry and support any other shortfalls that are address along the way.” she concluded.
 
Environmental Justice Australia made submissions on behalf of Voices of the Valley asking for measures including education of doctors on the health impacts of the mine fire; a long term health study to be extended beyond Morwell; real time access to air pollution monitoring data measured at the boundaries of major pollution sources; and the Hazelwood Health Clinic to have the services of a doctor rather than being limited to a nurse.

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