News & Media

Mine fires FAQs 20/2/14

Here's the latest information on the Latrobe Valley mine fires which may help answer any questions you have about the fire or associated health impacts.


1. How does the CFA incorporate local knowledge into the firefight, strategy and planning?

• Local CFA members are embedded in the response structure at all levels, from firefighters on the ground to incident controllers

2. What expertise from former SEC employees been utilised?

• This firefight is a joint response with the mining staff and the agencies both of which have employees that are ex-SEC

3. Should the mine be flooded to stop the fire?

• Flooding the mine would halt production at the mine and shut down the Hazelwood Power Station
• Our strategy is to protect critical infrastructure for power generation
• We want to ensure that the mine and power station can maintain power supply for the state.

4. Are there poisonous substances (in addition to CO) such as heavy metals in the smoke and the ash?

• Victoria has brown coal which contains oxides including calcium, aluminium, potassium, sodium, iron and magnesium. Reported analyses of brown coal does not indicate the presence of heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic and lead. Ash has the potential to act as a mild skin, eye or throat irritant. Local samples of the ash are being analysed by EPA.

5. How dangerous is prolonged exposure to these substances to humans (adults and children) and animals?

• It is not expected that exposure as a result of this fire will have long term health effects. Ash is sticky and may be pervasive in your home and therefore some exposure is expected. You should practise good hygiene to avoid unnecessary exposure. For example, wash hands and face before eating. Clean surfaces with damp cloths regularly.

6. What are the impacts of ash on babies?

• It is not recommended that babies and young children play in ash or dusty conditions, to reduce the skin, eye and throat irritation and unnecessary ingestion. Practise good hygiene including washing toys.

7. Is it safe to stay indoors given that for many people their houses are old and the smoke and ash does get in?

• It is safe to stay indoors. Wipe surfaces with damp cloths. The department has general advice on the website about cleaning up a smoke-affected home. http://www.health.vic.gov.au/environment/bushfires.htm

8. Does Traralgon Hospital have the capacity to cope with people reporting suffering impacts from the smoke (headaches, fainting, vomiting)?

• Latrobe Regional Hospital in Traralgon has not seen an increase in demand for services through its emergency department. If it does, there are strategies in place to meet that demand. First point of contact for health concerns is Nurse on Call. Then your GP, then in an emergency, call 000.
• The department is monitoring the demand on services, and staff will attend public meetings to give general information about health concerns but will not be able to give personalised health advice.

9. Will the Department of Health dispatch more staff to attend medical needs resulting from smoke and ash?

• Latrobe Regional Hospital in Traralgon has not seen an increase in demand for services through its emergency department. If it does, there are strategies in place to meet that demand.
• First point of contact for health concerns is Nurse on Call. Then your GP, then in an emergency, call 000.
• The department is monitoring the demand on services and staff will be provided to public meetings to give general information about health concerns but will not be able to give personalised health advice.

10. Are there other medical services people can access other than the hospital?

• NURSE-ON-CALL, local GP and community health services

11. Where can members of the community have CO levels tested?

• It is not necessary to be tested for CO exposure. If you're unwell you should seek medical advice.

12. Are there long term health impacts associated with the smoke and ash?

• Long term health effects from the smoke and ash are unlikely as a result of the fire. However, it is important to follow health advice about avoiding or reducing exposure to smoke. People should monitor their health and visit their GP when needed.

13. Are there long term impacts associated with the ash falling on people and their properties?

• Long term health effects from the ash are unlikely as a result of this fire.

14. Are children going to get sick if they exercise/play outdoors?

• Children may experience the irritant and respiratory effects of smoke and ash. Reducing the amount of outdoor play will reduce exposure to the ash and smoke. Follow good hygiene practices such as washing hands and face before eating.

15. School children are coming home covered in ash. Will they suffer health impacts? Should they be kept at home?

• Children may experience the irritant and respiratory effects of smoke and ash. Reducing the amount of outdoor play will reduce the exposure to the ash. Some schools are relocating their children to reduce their exposure to smoke and ash . There is no need to keep children at home unless the school has advised otherwise.

16. Where can the community get readings from the EPA monitors?

• We have doubled monitoring efforts and we are making more information available on the web www.epa.vic.gov.au or 1300 EPA VIC (1300 372 842)
• There will be a new mobile air monitoring station outside the police station from tomorrow that will be providing more data to EPA to inform the Health Department and Incident Management Team.
• There will be more information to come, priority has been to get the lab on site and start monitoring the air.

17. Does the EPA website have sufficient information on the testing results for Morwell?

• We are increasing the amount of information about the smoke – which includes our data around PM2.5 small particles, PM10 large particles.
• EPA has listened to the community concerns. EPA responders and controllers have been installing new monitoring stations and mobile equipment and these will be set up Thursday (20/02) with available data about carbon monoxide in the next few days.
• To support the six monitoring stations, we have EPA staff monitoring air with hand held devices and will have vehicle-mounted information beginning Thursday (20/02) afternoon.

18. Is the EPA testing in the correct places?

• Yes, based on our scientific expertise these are in the right place to capture the worst levels of particles, allowing us to inform the Department of Health and emergency response in Morwell. More monitors are being placed and mobile monitoring will enable wider and targeted gathering of information.

19. Community members say there is more smoke around houses closer to the mine than where the monitors are placed (the Morwell Police Station)?

• The monitoring stations are fanned out around town to represent the local impacts as effectively as possible. The large number of sites and the wide dispersion of fixed and mobile monitoring will provide better understanding of the impacts and enable the provision of timely and relevant advice.

20. What about carbon monoxide?

• We have two carbon monoxide monitors and we’re arranging more to come. These are our own and we will be pushing this information on to the web and other channels to reach the community. We will continue to monitor for this around the clock along with CFA.

21. Where are the monitoring stations?

• Our monitoring network includes a fixed particulate station at Traralgon, two more are online in Morwell and two more coming online.
• There are also four fixed carbon monoxide monitors in Morwell and EPOs are conducting hand held monitoring at several locations.
• A portable particulate monitor will be added tomorrow, as will indoor monitoring in a public building in Morwell.
• Additionally, we will have mobile monitors sweeping through the town and surrounding areas to collect information on ash and carbon monoxide.

22. Can people in public housing who do not have alternative accommodation options (no relations, friends who can provide accommodation) access alternatives?

• The Victorian Department of Human Services has opened a community respite centre this afternoon in the Latrobe Valley, where residents can seek temporary respite from the smoky conditions caused by the Latrobe Valley mine fires.
• The centre is operating in the Moe Town Hall, Albert Street, from 9am-7pm
• It will remain open subject to local demand.
• The centre will offer a cool air conditioned space where any resident can take a break away from the smoky conditions.
• Representatives from the following organisations will be present:
- Latrobe City Council
- Red Cross
- Victorian Council of Churches
- Ambulance Victoria
- Environment Protection Authority (EPA)
- Department of Health
- Victoria’s fire services

23. What is the impact of the smoke and ash on water supplies

• Gippsland Water does not expect there to be any impact on water supplies as a result of smoke and ash in the area. Treated water storages are all protected by floating covers.
• There has been no impact on water treatment facilities and none is expected.  

24. What about the effects of livestock and pets?

• If you are concerned consult a vet or phone DEPI on 136 186

Last Updated: 20 February 2014