Psychological and Social Effects

In addition to physical effects on residents, the Board also observed a psychological impact on the community as a consequence of the mine fire. The lack of information about the potential short and long-term effects of the exposure to smoke and ash has caused significant distress to the community. Local general practitioner, Dr Malcolm McKelvie, who works in Yarragon, submitted to the Board that as reports of carbon monoxide monitoring hit the news, people’s anxiety levels increased.84

Many community members have developed levels of anxiety and depression, which they attribute to the mine fire.85 Issues raised by community members at community consultations included concern about evident smoke and ash and the generally unpleasant environment during the mine fire, and also the unknown long-term impact of the mine fire to their health. A number of individuals advised that they were afraid to leave their home for the period of time that the mine fire was burning.86

Many residents also suffered anxiety and stress from disrupted family life, the loss of enjoyment of their home and neighbourhood, the smell in the air, and because they could not go outside.87 Mr Darren Geddes of Morwell detailed in his written submission to the Board that his child had become anxious about having to be bussed to a different school.88 A number of other confidential submissions provided to the Board gave an overview of the anxiety, depression and panic attacks experienced by the community over the duration of the mine fire.

The Board also heard evidence about the broader social effects of the Hazelwood mine fire. Concerns were expressed during community consultations about the potential for an increase in family violence in the short to medium-term as a result of stress caused by the mine fire.89

Professor Campbell advised the Board that the whole community, especially young children, are at risk of psychosocial impacts as a result of the emergency, including an increased risk of family violence, drug and alcohol abuse, depression and anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorders and phobias.90

The Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) told the Board that social and health impacts of the Hazelwood mine fire will have a profound impact on the Morwell community in the weeks, months and years to come.91

In light of the significant psychological and social impacts on the community, the Department of Human Services (DHS) secured additional funding from the Victorian Government of $673,500 for the financial year 2014/15.92 DHS is working with the local community to determine the most efficient allocation of this funding.93 Further details of the recovery effort are discussed in Chapter 4.7 Relief and recovery.