Firefighters fighting the Hazelwood mine fire utilised the mine’s reticulated fire services water system to help extinguish the fire. A number of firefighters became concerned about potential adverse health effects as a result of exposure to the water at the mine during fire suppression activities.56
One firefighter developed an infected cut which was thought to be due to the use of the recycled water at the mine. A number of MFB firefighters were exposed to the waste water in the Hazelwood Ash Retention Area (HARA) pond at the mine.57
On 15 February 2014, the CFA engaged an occupational hygienist, Mr Golec, to review the safety of the water being used at the mine.58 A number of water samples were taken. Mr Golec determined that the samples met the standards for drinking water in relation to chemical contaminants, but that a sample from the Hazelwood pondage contained a form of blue-green algae that presented a significant health risk.59 Further studies of the water indicated that the water did not pose an exposure risk but high levels of coliforms and E.coli were detected.60
In response to the water-testing results, the CFA issued several hygiene directives to the firefighters, including the use of gloves.
The UFU arranged for water samples from the mine to be independently tested by Bureau Veritas, which reported that the water contained coliforms, E.coli and pseudomonas aeruginosa.61 Bureau Veritas recommended that firefighters with burns or cuts should not come into contact with the water, that the water should not be ingested or inhaled, that appropriate protective equipment should be worn, and that personal hygiene should be observed (for example, washing hands before eating).62 This was consistent with the hygiene directives issues by the CFA.
Other than the cut sustained by a firefighter that became infected, there were no other reported adverse health effects to firefighters from the water used during fire suppression operations at the mine.