Most of the EPA’s focus during the Hazelwood mine fire was on ambient (outdoor) air quality monitoring and testing.91 Due to the duration of the fire, many people in the community expressed their concern about the quality of air and presence of ash inside their homes, schools, businesses and workplaces.

Despite the best efforts of the community to act on the advice given to them by the EPA to limit exposure to the air outside (by staying indoors and closing windows and vents), the community’s experience was that this did not stop smoke and ash from getting inside. This was particularly the case for residents who have older style houses with gaps in floorboards, windows or door frames.

Ms Burke was 34 weeks pregnant, and had a two year old son at the time of the mine fire. She runs a dance school with her business partner in Driffield Road and lives in Tarwin Street, both of which are located approximately 1.5 kilometres from the mine site. Ms Burke described to the Board what it was like returning to her home at approximately 9 pm on the evening of 10 February 2014, having spent the previous night at her parents’ house (located in a part of Morwell furthest from the mine):

I couldn’t stay there, it was definitely too smoky and, yes, you could see the haze through the house probably to waist height… We live in an older style house, so obviously there’s not as much ventilation as there would be in a new home, so we found that the smoke really was quite well contained in our home. Outside it was very dark and hazy, even driving down from my mum and dad’s house on the other side of Morwell to our place you couldn’t really see that far in front of you. You could see maybe 15 metres in front of you and then from there it was quite hazy and very dark… I went home a few days, probably 45 minutes, that was long enough to be there, it was quite bad in our house and the smell and the smoke, you could just feel it straight away when you went into there that it was definitely more challenging to breath[e], and I wasn’t going to bring my 2-year-old home to that.92

As indoor air quality is strongly influenced by the outdoor environment, the concentration of air pollutants indoors can be comparable to concentrations in the ambient air environment (Ohura, 2010, p. 414). The longer the mine fire burned, the more smoke and ash were emitted into the atmosphere, which made it increasingly difficult for people to keep the air inside their homes and businesses separate from the air outside. The amount of smoke and ash inside was dependent on the proximity of people’s homes and businesses to the mine site and the style and age of buildings (see Figure 4.36).

Figure 4.36 Smoke engulfs the streets and residential properties of the Morwell community


Image source Newspix / News Ltd