The Hazelwood Health Study is a long and complex study so we are sure that many community members will have questions about the study. Some of these questions have already been answered below but we encourage people to contact us with any additional questions that they may have.
What is the study about?
- The study is about identifying potential health outcomes in the community which may have resulted from the mine fire smoke. These might include heart and lung disease, cancer or mental health problems.
- Health outcomes in vulnerable groups, such as infants and children, young people, and older people, are of particular interest.
- All residents in the Latrobe Valley and the wider region will benefit from the Hazelwood Health Study, not only those who participate directly in the surveys. In addition to addressing community concerns about the impacts of the smoke event, the study will collect considerable information about the health and health service use of the local community which will inform future health policy and planning for the region.
How was the scope of the study determined?
- We are covering the priority health issues identified by the Department of Health during community consultation sessions in Morwell in May 2014. Since then, additional research questions have been considered, but always with a focus on the ongoing health impacts following the mine fire. It is possible that future studies may be funded to build upon the Hazelwood Health Study and target other areas of importance.
Which towns are being included?
- Air pollution exposure modelling shows that Morwell was the most exposed to fine particles from the Hazelwood mine fire with lower exposure across the Latrobe Valley and beyond.
- For the Adult Survey and the associated health assessments it is important that we focus on Morwell as the town which received the highest exposure level as this will maximise our chance of identifying significant health outcomes. Air pollution exposure modelling has been used to identify Sale as a suitable comparison community with less exposure to the Hazelwood mine fire smoke. Comparisons between the health of Morwell and Sale residents allow us to identify any differences in health outcomes that may be attributed to the smoke exposure. Detailed exposure modelling for the Latrobe Valley and beyond enable us to estimate the health outcomes for other areas.
- The Latrobe ELF Study covers the entire Latrobe Valley. The Community Wellbeing stream covers the broader Latrobe Valley and beyond, including an analysis of print, radio and social media which includes state and national media. The Hazelinks stream accesses datasets relating to Morwell, Latrobe Valley, and the wider region.
What is happening and when?
- All Study streams have completed their first round of data collection, which took place at different times and locations in 2016 and 2017 in order to fit in with each other and reduce the burden on the community members and the research team. All streams are now progressing into the follow up stages. More details are available on the Study Timeline page.
Who should participate?
- All streams have criteria that define who is eligible to participate. If you have participated in previous surveys or health assessments, you may be invited to participate in follow-up assessments.
- It is critically important that as many eligible people as possible participate in the research, regardless of whether or not they believe their health was impacted by the smoke event. This will enable us to better understand the impacts of the smoke event across the community. We hope that everybody who is invited agrees to participate.
- It is not possible, nor necessary, for the Hazelwood Health Study to interview every person who was in the Latrobe Valley during the mine fire. If as many eligible people as possible participate in the study streams, then they will provide sufficient information about the pattern of health in highly exposed versus less exposed people, which can then be generalised to other community members. The inclusion of additional people in the study streams will make the study larger, more complex, take longer and be more expensive, but will not add value to the results.
I have current concerns about my health. What do I do?
- The study is not about providing medical assistance. Residents with current concerns about their health are encouraged to seek assistance from their local general practitioner.
How will the community have input into the study?
- The study was established in response to the concerns of the local community so it is important that the study team hears from and works in partnership with the community. We work closely with the Latrobe Health Assembly and the Gippsland Primary Health Network and our Scientific Reference Group to ensure we have input from local residents and clinicians as well as leading research experts.
- These groups will also play a key role in making sure that study findings are taken up into policy and practice locally and more widely, improving the response to any future emergency events as well as helping to provide a more locally targeted health service system.
- A core aspect of community engagement is our commitment to providing regular updates to the community as the study progresses, including through our annual community briefings and at other community events. We will provide regular updates through the local media (newspaper, TV, radio), as well as keep people updated through our website and social media.
Who are the researchers?
- Although funded by the Victorian Government, the Hazelwood Health Study is led by independent researchers from Monash University in collaboration with Federation University, University of Tasmania, University of Adelaide, and the CSIRO.
- The study team is made up of highly experienced researchers with a strong track record of conducting public health research. The team members bring together expertise in multiple areas including epidemiology, environmental health risk assessment, toxicology, air quality, psychology, health policy and community resilience with between 11 and 40 years of research experience individually. In addition to the core team members, we are also able to capitalise on the skills and experience of other leading experts who comprise our Scientific Reference Group.
What data are being collected?
- The Adult Survey has collected information such as respiratory and cardiovascular health and other medical conditions, wellbeing and psychological health, level of exposure to the mine fire smoke and health risk factors such as smoking history and work history.
- The Psychological Impacts Stream adult component collected information on psychological health via the 2016-2017 Adult Survey. A follow-up survey was conducted in 2019-2020 which repeated core psychological measures from the original Adult Survey and introduced new measures including resilience and social isolation. A further round of the survey was conducted in 2022.
- The Latrobe Early Life Follow up (ELF) Study is continuing to collect information about birthweight, lung, heart and blood vessel health and development, and common minor illnesses in infants born between before, during and after the mine fire event.
- The Adult Survey, Hazelinks and the Latrobe ELF Study are all collecting health service use records, such as those collected by Medicare, Ambulance Victoria and hospitals, and also information about cancers and deaths from databases maintained by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
- The Psychological Impacts Stream Schools Study has measured psychological and wellbeing outcomes in school children and is continuing to monitor educational performance.
- The Older People stream has gathered information on the impacts of the mine fire on older people through group discussions with older people and their carer's, interviews with stakeholders involved in supporting older people, and a review of the policy decisions made during the event. This work now informs the Community Wellbeing stream.
- The Community Wellbeing stream continues to gather community perceptions of the mine fire event’s impact on the community wellbeing, the effectiveness of rebuilding activities and the elements needed for effective communication during and after an event such as the mine fire.
- The Respiratory Stream invited Adult Survey participants to attend a clinic where a number of tests of lung health were administered. A further round of assessments was completed in 2021 with the final round planned for 2023. Adult Survey participants were also invited to participate in a survey on longer-term respiratory outcomes.
- The Cardiovascular Stream invited Adult Survey participants to attend a clinic where a number of tests of heart and blood vessel health were administered. Further cardiovascular outcomes are being monitored through the Hazelinks Stream.
How will my privacy be protected?
- The Hazelwood Health Study is bound by Commonwealth and State privacy legislation. All information collected will be treated with absolute confidentiality and used for health research only. All identified data will be held securely to ensure total security, confidentiality and anonymity. Nothing that would identify individual participants will be released publicly.
How will the community hear about the study outcomes?
- Findings will be released as soon as they become available. The first findings have already been released and can be found on the Study findings page.