Morwell Residents advised to leave to escape toxic smoke from coal mine fire

Intro

Almost three weeks after being ignited by a grass fire during the Victorian heatwave, the Morwell open-cut coal mine is still burning, forcing the Napthine government to propose the “temporary relocation” of vulnerable Morwell residents despite rejecting health risks only days ago. Air quality experts have called for evacuation, while toxic coal smoke and ash from the mines has already been linked to firefighter health concerns. The best case scenario for the fire smoke or ash being reduced over Morwell is ten days, so children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with pre-existing chronic diseases have been advised to relocate.

There is currently no best case estimate for the fire itself being extinguished, with coal fires like this potentially burning for decades. In the case of Morwell, the fire is threatening not only health, but also energy supplies. Already, inquiries are being called for and the possibility of legal challenges considered, with the fire being described by one expert as a wake up call to the coal industry for leaving abandoned mines uncovered and exposed to air – heightening the risk of catastrophic fires. There are also now fears of landslides within the mine because of the amount of water being used in the firefighting effort.

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RT @CAN_Australia: Health impacts from #Hazelwood #coal mine fire – expert opinion http://t.co/uzFEsJJBoh MT @AusSMC

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Key Points

  • Despite the Morwell open cut coal mine burning for almost three weeks now, vulnerable residents are only now being advised to “temporarily relocate” until toxic smoke and ash subsides. Those with pre-existing conditions such as heart or lung disease, young children, the elderly, and pregnant women are being advised to leave the area.
  • Climate change is loading the dice for more extreme weather conditions, and in Australia that means more frequent and more intense heatwaves, droughts and fires. The grassfire that ignited the Morwell coal mine is suspected to have been deliberately lit, however, the fact that it happened during an extreme heatwave in catastrophic fire conditions has made it far easier for it to take hold, spread, and become very challenging for firefighters to extinguish.

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Key quotes

  • “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.” Principal Research Fellow at the Queensland University of Technology, Associate Professor Adrian Barnett.
  • “I do have to warn you that when you finish coughing and blowing your nose, putting in your eye drops and scrubbing your feet, you may have some trouble sleeping. Now the lack of oxygen in the air can make you nice and drowsy, but the constant sound of helicopters overhead can be a bit noisy, what with all the concerned politicians flying overhead, looking concerned and then getting the hell out as far as they can.” Morwell resident Melinda Roberts in an open letter to the Victoria Government.
  • “We are not currently seeing serious health effects from the smoke, such as an increase in ambulance callouts or hospital attendances. Health impacts may change if vulnerable people continue to be exposed to smoke.” Chief Health Officer Rosemary Lester.
  • “This fire is difficult to extinguish because it is deep seated within the coal seam and the coal seam is very extensive both vertically and horizontally. The scale of the control process makes it difficult as well as complicated, due to the need to manage the water runoff, to prevent ancillary issues like flooding the operating mine or bogging the firefighting equipment. To control this fire, the heat must be removed from the coal and the air must be stopped from reaching the coal. This sounds simple in theory but in practice, given the scale of this event, it is not.” Professor of Occupational Health and Safety in Mining and Director of the Minerals Industry Safety and Health Centre at the University of Queensland, Professor David Cliff.

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More tweets

  • RT @KetanJ0: Melinda Roberts, Morwellian, writes an open letter to the Vic Premier: https://t.co/hSGPwkNvw3   #AusPol
  • RT @LV_Express: If leaving Morwell register in person at Com Info & Recovery Centre, online at http://t.co/ZlSjEzV3di  or phone 1800 727 077
  • MT @Jackthelad1947: re:  Morwell coal fire, wld you rather have a coalmine, solar or windpower next door? #Auspol It’s a no brainer really.
  • RT @Cam_Walker: Crikey. They have even suspended postal deliveries in Morwell because of #Hazelwood fire pollution. http://t.co/hta6Bewe5N
  • RT @digitalfolklore: #Morwell nearly 3 weeks of raging coal fires – and now its an emergency?  #evacuate https://t.co/xPvMHpLkWU
  • MT @GregMLC: Watching Morwell press conference. More mixed messages on health & evacuation. We need judicial inquiry http://t.co/qzoO0Glw6I
  • RT @LockTheGate: Acrid air. Burning eyes. This is the shame of the Hazelwood Coal Fire disaster #morwell #lockthegate http://t.co/kZpAGTkibk
  • RT @Broelman: BREAKING: Abbott assures choking #Morwell that it’s only an invisible substance. #auspol
  • RT @GetUp: As #minefire chokes #Morwell, NGO leaders, churches, medicos warn of huge health dangers of coal: http://t.co/HYKagVyjkS