Hazelwood coalmine fire blamed for deaths

Issue 
Morwell residents protest in March last year at the problems caused by the Hazelwood coal mine fire.

Voices of the Valley released this statement on February 6.

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Latrobe Valley residents’ group Voices of the Valley has released new data and analysis regarding probable deaths resulting from the coalmine fire which began one year ago in the Victorian town of Hazelwood.

Initial analysis of deaths data obtained from Births, Deaths and Marriages last September indicated a high probability that 11 people had died as a result of the fire. Voices of the Valley have since obtained a 10-year data set which has again been analysed by Associate Professor Adrian Barnett from the Queensland University of Technology.

The new analysis reveals that there is a very high probability (94%) that there was an increase in the death rate in the 3844 postcode, which includes Traralgon, the largest town in the area.

Barnett said: “The latest data provides some more clarity around the increased risk of death during the fire. 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. Ideally we would have this information available to refine the analysis.”

President of Voices of the Valley Wendy Farmer said: “The previous government tried to cover up and discredit the evidence, which showed a high probability of widespread deaths and health effects from this preventable industrial disaster.
“They made public that there was a 30 to 32% increase in deaths in Moe from “an unknown cause” during the mine fire but refused to mention the 40% increase in Traralgon from their same set of figures.

“One year on, there are many Latrobe Valley residents who are still profoundly impacted from the Hazelwood fire both in terms of their health and financial well being. We applaud that the Daniel Andrews government has committed to re-opening the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry, and trust that the poor health responses and increase in death rates and will be thoroughly investigated so that the community can finally have some resolution.

“Since the fire first began we have consistently provided evidence to the government that strongly indicates that the fire had a widespread health impact across the Latrobe Valley. We are working to ensure that the recently opened Hazelwood Mine Fire Health Study examines this broader impact across the LV airshed and does not limit its focus to Morwell as the last government tried to do.

"We welcome the initiative shown by the Andrews government regarding fire safety at the mines. We do note however that the only effective long-term solution for fire safety is to ensure that the mines are fully rehabilitated. This ongoing process needs to be greatly accelerated and ideally would be happening while the mines are productive and profitable.

“The rehabilitation bonds and non compliance penalties need to be greatly increased to provide sufficient incentive for the mine operators to carry out the tasks required to protect the surrounding communities."
“We also need permanent air quality monitoring stations that are capable of producing a meaningful air quality index in the communities. These need to be live streamed, so that the community can make our own judgments about the risk posed by the ambient pollution levels and any future incidents.”

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