The Hazelwood Health Study

The Hazelwood Health Study is a multi-million-dollar program commissioned by the Victorian Department of Health to investigate the health impacts resulting from the smoke caused by the Morwell open-cut coal mine fire. Monash University is leading the 10-year, multidisciplinary study in collaboration with Federation University, University of Tasmania, University of Adelaide and the University of Newcastle.

In February 2014, a fire in the Hazelwood open-cut brown coal mine in the Latrobe Valley resulted in one of Victoria’s worst air quality events in history, with smoke plumes blanketing the town of Morwell for six weeks. In response to local community concerns, the Hazelwood Health Study investigated the health impacts for people who were exposed to the fire, including: heart and lung disease, cancer, mental health, diet and education. The study also investigated the health and wellbeing impacts of the fire on infants, school-aged children, older people and the broader community. The community was consulted and actively participated in the research program.

The study found that in the six months after the mine fire, the overall risk of death in Morwell was slightly higher, particularly in men over 80 years of age, with 26 additional deaths resulting from cardiovascular conditions. Another finding from the study showed that lower than average NAPLAN scores were being obtained four years after the fire event. This data could have wider application and be used to measure the impacts of remote learning during COVID-19 lockdowns. The study’s findings on healthy eating and cardiovascular health led to a successful series of nutrition workshops and the ‘Nutrition Week’ social media campaign across the Latrobe community, and a new public health campaign called ‘MyFoodSwaps’, which provides online personalised dietary feedback to local residents.

Information obtained from the study is now being used by health and emergency services personnel to improve responses to future disaster events. The Monash-led partnership continues to undertake research into the health impacts resulting from the open-cut mine fire in collaboration with the Latrobe Valley community.

The study was led by Monash University through independent researchers from the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine and the School of Rural Health and its partner organisations.


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