Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Hazelwood coal fire health impacts

The Victorian government may announce a partial evacuation of residents from the smoke-affected town of Morwell. Australian experts comment on the health impacts of coal fires.

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"Coal smoke is very dangerous to health; we know this from some of the earliest epidemiological studies in this field on the London coal smoke smog of 1952 that killed around 12,000 people. This high number of deaths comes from a relatively low individual risk (around a 10 per cent increase in mortality during the London smog episode) applied to a large city population. So the more people who are exposed in Morwell, the greater the overall health problem will be. We would also expect emergency hospital admissions to rise, especially for respiratory conditions such as asthma and bronchitis. Those at greatest risk are children, the elderly and those with pre-existing chronic disease. Pregnant women would also be advised to keep away from the smoke. Staying indoors or wearing masks does not offer complete protection from some of the smoke particles, which can be tiny and easily penetrate inside homes. If I lived in the area I would move my family away until the fire was out."

Associate Professor Adrian Barnett is a Principal Research Fellow at the Queensland University of Technology


“In case of fires, usually particulate matter is the biggest concern, and specifically the PM2.5 fraction (particles smaller than 2.5 microns). Their concentration in the air could be high, and above the WHO health guideline levels even if air...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.