Long-term health study

The Latrobe Valley community is acutely aware of long-term risks from exposure to toxic chemicals, due to its experience with asbestos. The community is very concerned about the potential long-term effects of exposure to smoke and ash from the Hazelwood mine fire.

In order to address the research gap around potential long-term effects of short/medium-term exposure to smoke from a coal mine fire, the Department of Health has committed to undertake a long-term health study.208

On 6 and 7 May 2014, the Department of Health conducted a community consultation about the proposed study.209 At this consultation, the primary concern of the community was the potential long-term impact on children of exposure to smoke and ash.210

The proposed duration of the study is 10 years. Dr Lester told the Board:

I think it would be very ideal if the study continued longer than that. It really is not feasible for the government to be entering into contracts at this stage for any longer than 10 years. I would certainly be wanting to see the study continue for longer than that.211

In his report to the Board, Professor Campbell outlined a number of essential features of the proposed study. These include that the study:

  • be for a duration of at least 20 years
  • have the objective of improving the physical and mental health of the Latrobe Valley community
  • be conducted under the governance of a steering committee that includes an independent chair and community representatives
  • translate the outcomes of the study into improved health incomes for the community
  • include research from meteorologists, environmental health physicians, occupational health physicians and mathematical modellers to develop better predictive tools to describe the conditions under which environmental hazards may arise in the future
  • include regular reports to the community to ensure that they are informed of the progress of the study and the results
  • have a primary focus on PM2.5 exposure.212

He further advised that it is important to ensure that the community is the focus of and is involved in the study:

My experience of dealing with the former power industry workers is that the community are very switched on and have a very good understanding of what are the important questions, and they need to be satisfied that those questions have been addressed and it hasn’t been captured by the researchers for their own purpose. So I’ll speak against me as a researcher and say that the researchers should be in service of the community and focus on outcomes.213