WEEK TWO: 17 FEBRUARY 2014 – 23 FEBRUARY 2014

On 17 February 2014, Dr Lester updated her community health alert to include pregnant women in the ‘at risk’ group. Dr Lester told the Board that she included pregnant women due to evidence that lower birth weight of babies may occur where the mother is exposed to fine particles over a sustained period.48

Following the very poor air quality on the weekend of 15 February 2014 and 16 February 2014, a community meeting was held at Kernot Hall, Morwell on 18 February 2014. At this meeting the community expressed anger and some members of the community felt that the meeting was not well managed.49 In her evidence to the Board, Ms Merita Tabain, Chair of the Emergency Management Joint Public Information Committee (EMJPIC), stated that there were not enough government representatives present who were senior enough to give a definitive answer.50 Mr Lapsley advised the Board that this meeting ‘was a turning point and highlighted to the emergency management agencies the depth of concern within the Morwell community about the mine fire and the potential effects of the smoke.’51

The Morwell Neighbourhood House also commenced community meetings to provide the local community with up-to-date information about the fire.52

Mr Pole stated to the Board that on 18 February 2014, DEECD commenced planning the possible relocation of schools and children’s services (early learning centres, kindergartens and outside school hours care programs) following communication with Dr Lester.53 DEECD informed Dr Lester that a report had been received from a children’s service of children exhibiting hyperactivity, headaches, flushed faces and longer sleep times. Dr Lester advised that the symptoms were consistent with smoke exposure and that schools and children’s services south of Commercial Road (nearest to the mine) should be temporarily relocated out of the smoke.54 The same day DEECD resolved to undertake air monitoring at all schools and children’s services in Morwell. The monitoring was conducted with hand-held devices and measured carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and PM10.55

On 18 February 2014, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide monitors were installed by the EPA at Hourigan Road, Morwell (East),56 and ash samples were taken by the EPA in Morwell and sent for analysis.57

From 19 February 2014, the Department of Health began to obtain validated data from the EPA on carbon monoxide levels (eight hour rolling averages) from the station in the east of Morwell. On this same day, the EPA provided its first regular data summary of PM2.5 to the Department of Health and the Chief Health Officer. By this time the EPA had transported a mobile air monitoring device (MoLab) to the Morwell Bowling Club and commenced logging air monitoring data, including for carbon monoxide and PM2.5.58

On 19 February 2014, the Department of Health contacted local general practitioners to discuss any increase in demand they had observed during the Hazelwood mine fire.59

Also on 19 February 2014, a community respite centre was established in Moe to provide an area for people to seek relief from the smoky conditions. The centre offered psychosocial support (via the Red Cross), fire information (through the CFA and Victoria Police), health and environment information (from Ambulance Victoria and the EPA), child friendly spaces, and tea, coffee and snacks.60 The Latrobe City Council provided a free bus service from Morwell to the centre and also offered to provide taxi vouchers to some residents to enable them to attend the centre.61

The two schools closest to the mine, Commercial Road Primary School and Sacred Heart Primary School, were relocated on 20 February 2014.62

The Department of Human Services (DHS) recognised that some residents were experiencing personal hardship as a result of the Hazelwood mine fire. In response to this, respite payments of $500 per household (with a payment of up to $1,250 per household in exceptional circumstances) were made available on 21 February 2014.63

On 21 February 2014, the Department of Health established the health assessment centre at the Ambulance Victoria Regional Office, 2 Saskia Way, Morwell.64 Ms Wilson stated to the Board that she attended the health assessment centre regularly to assess her health and the health of her unborn baby, in conjunction with regular consultations with her general practitioner.65

On 21 February 2014, the EPA launched a dedicated microsite web page for the Latrobe Valley and the Hazelwood mine fire on its website.66

Between 21 February 2014 and 24 February 2014, the PM2.5 levels recorded at the monitoring station at the Morwell Bowling Club (South) exceeded the high (extreme) level (greater than 250 µg/m3).67

On 22 February 2014 and 23 February 2014, the carbon monoxide levels recorded at the monitoring station at the Morwell Bowling Club (South) were classified as poor or very poor (greater than 9 ppm).68