WEEK THREE: 24 FEBRUARY 2014 – 2 MARCH 2014
On 24 February 2014, the Department of Health issued a number of further health alerts and information sheets for the community about the use of rainwater, cleaning and face masks. The alerts were published online and distributed via traditional media.69
In these alerts, the Department of Health advised that ordinary paper dust masks, handkerchiefs and bandanas did not filter out fine particles (PM2.5) and were generally not helpful in protecting the lungs. Special P2 face masks (available at hardware stores) provided superior filtering of fine particles but did not protect against gases contained in the smoke, such as carbon monoxide. The Department of Health further advised that unless face masks had a good seal, they would not offer suitable protection. People with existing heart and lung conditions were advised to seek medical advice before using a face mask.
On 25 February 2014, Dr Lester advised that community members in ‘at risk’ groups should consider temporarily staying outside the smoke affected area, that other community members should consider a break away from the smoke and that outdoor activity should be avoided.70 The same day, the Department of Health established a website specific to the Hazelwood mine fire.71
On 26 February 2014, the Latrobe City Council decided to close all preschools in Morwell and the Carinya Early Learning Centre. Mr John Mitchell, Acting Chief Executive Officer of Latrobe City Council, stated to the Board that the decision was made because it became clear that children were frustrated at remaining inside and some were becoming affected by smoke filtering through the doors and vents.72 By 27 February 2014, all government run children’s services had closed or announced their intention to close shortly.73
On 26 February 2014 and 27 February 2014 there was a significant decrease in air quality triggering the PM2.5 Health Protection Protocol which had recently been developed by the Department of Health and the EPA. On 27 February 2014, the PM2.5 levels recorded at the monitoring station at the Morwell Bowling Club (South) exceeded the high (extreme) level (greater than 250µg/m3).74 Carbon monoxide levels were also classified as very poor (greater than 9 ppm).75
On the morning of 28 February 2014, Dr Lester met with Mr Ken Lay, Chief Commissioner of Police, Mr Lapsley, Mr John Merritt, former Chief Executive Officer of the EPA, and Mr Mitchell, to discuss the proposed relocation advice.76 The parties supported Dr Lester’s recommendation that ‘at risk’ residents in Morwell who lived south of Commercial Road should consider relocating.
On 28 February 2014, Dr Lester advised that residents who were over 65 years of age, preschool aged children, pregnant women and anyone with a pre-existing respiratory or cardiovascular condition located in Morwell south of Commercial Road should temporarily relocate from the area.77 This advice coincided with the announcement of a relocation payment from DHS.