Feb 9, 2015

One year on from Hazelwood fire, deadly legacy lingers

The Hazelwood mine fire was not a natural disaster; it was a chronic industrial mishap of the most unnatural kind, writes freelance writer Tom Doig.

This morning, everyone is obsessed with the Liberal Party’s leadership spill — and fair enough. But exactly one year ago today, on the afternoon of February 9, 2014, a very different kind of spill was taking place in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, right next to the town of Morwell.

The Latrobe Valley “spill” was a massive, prolonged discharge of toxic smoke into the air breathed by a densely populated regional community.

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5 thoughts on “One year on from Hazelwood fire, deadly legacy lingers

  1. Geoff Russell

    Tom, how would you compare the risks associated with the Morewell smoke with those of Fukushima radiation? Keep in mind that millions of people actually cook with coal every day and have done for centuries. And in recent times there have been epidemiological studies on such exposures. There are two very different issues: how dangerous is coal smoke at a given level for respiratory disease and how carcinogenic is it? Have you looked at the studies?

  2. IkaInk

    @Geoff – I’m certainly not enough of an expert to compare the risks associated with the Hazelwood fire and the Fukushima disaster (although I’m certainly glad I wasn’t anywhere near either incident); but there are millions of deaths every year attributed to fumes from cooking fuel sources. The World Health Organisation put the figure at 4.3million for indoor stoves in 2012:

    After analysing the risk factors and taking into account revisions in methodology, WHO estimates indoor air pollution was linked to 4.3 million deaths in 2012 in households cooking over coal, wood and biomass stoves. The new estimate is explained by better information about pollution exposures among the estimated 2.9 billion people living in homes using wood, coal or dung as their primary cooking fuel, as well as evidence about air pollution’s role in the development of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and cancers.

    In the case of outdoor air pollution, WHO estimates there were 3.7 million deaths in 2012 from urban and rural sources worldwide.

    Many people are exposed to both indoor and outdoor air pollution. Due to this overlap, mortality attributed to the two sources cannot simply be added together, hence the total estimate of around 7 million deaths in 2012.

  3. Geoff Russell

    Is IkaInk=Tom? No matter. Nice to see you found the smoke problems. And the radiation deaths from Fukushima? I think its still zero and that’s probably where it will remain. Even without evacuation it would be zero. This isn’t a guess, it’s just based on well known information about radiation. Nobody got a deadly dose. If there was no evacuation then the 100,000 plus people would have had 20,000 cancers anyway. Would they have got more? Possibly a few, but certainly not many. On the other hand the evacuation killed many, and the ongoing despair and displacement has had massive impacts.

    The bottom line is that Morewell was a far more dangerous event than Fukushima … the levels of smoke that can trigger asthma attacks and the like is more dangerous than small amounts of radiation … but compare the media coverage of the two events? That would make an interesting master’s thesis!

  4. Geoff Russell

    N.B. If they’d have evacuated the Fukushima people to the US, then instead of 20,000 cancers, they’d have had a LOT more. They’d have adopted US habits over time and their cancer rate would have risen by about 50 percent. Same in Australia.

    Bottom line? The risks at Morewell probably not as bad as the risks of high levels of junk food.

  5. Bill Parker

    Don’t be daft Tom. Uncle Tony has told us coal is natural and good for society. Isn’t that enough to re-assure you?

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