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Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry Week 2
The second week of the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry was led by Inquiry Board Member Prof John Catford.
Prof Catford focused on the environmental effects and health issues brought about by the fire.
CFA members did not appear in an official capacity in terms of providing evidence last week. Furthermore, there were no CFA members included within the chosen community witnesses to give their evidence. The majority of those appearing were Government department heads and expert witnesses.
Air quality and the possible health issues were a major focus with John Merritt, who was the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) Chief Executive Officer at the time of the fire, giving evidence on Monday (2 June).It was the role of the EPA to measure and analyse the smoke and its effect on air quality at the site as it affected the neighbouring town of Morwell.
Chief Health Officer Dr Rosemary Lester gave evidence on several issues including the potential health effects of small particulate matter which is measured as PM2.5, the interpretation of data and resulting actions.
Dr Lester described the fire as complex and unique, and that the known research was incomplete on the issue of exposure to small particulate matter over durations such as that of the Hazelwood Mine fire
Expert witness, Professor Dr Donald Campbell from Monash University recommended a longer term health study, potentially for as long as 20 years, be conducted as there was no precedent for the Hazelwood Fire. Dr Lester agreed that there should be a long term health study and that her Department was committed to one.
Communications experts Prof Jim MacNamara, University of Technology Sydney and Lachlan Drummond, Strategic Director, Redhanded Communications also appeared and gave evidence associated with their report findings into the communications practices and challenges identified as part of the incident.
Community witnesses focused on their health fears and how they were being communicated with. Many were concerned that the flow of information was insufficient or did not appear to be complete.
The Hazelwood fire is considered to have been the largest mine fire in Australia. The CFA and fellow emergency agencies did incredibly well to manage it under the circumstances and this Inquiry will help us learn how to further improve our practices and procedures.
Our thanks again for the assistance we have received from staff and members who have been called to provide evidence and for the general and sometimes time critical support to the Inquiry Team.
Week three of the hearings is to be led by Inquiry Board Member Ms Sonia Petering and will address mitigation and fire prevention. An important priority for the team this week will also be the completion of the second Government Submission. This will concentrate on the key findings of the Inquiry to date to in turn support future improvement initiatives. More information including transcripts of evidence provided to the Inquiry Board is available at http://hazelwoodinquiry.vic.gov.au/
Peter Schmidt and Karen Alexander
Joint Directors, Hazelwood Mine Inquiry