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Australian Communities Living I n A Toxic Plume Of Smoke:  WelcomeTo The ‘Lucky Country'

By Dr Chris James

21 February, 2014

      A three kilometres fire is roaring out of control in the open cut mine at the Hazelwood Power Station in the Australian State of Victoria. It has been burning since February 9 th 2014.  Nineteen fire fighters have been hospitalised after falling ill from carbon monoxide fumes, 200 fire fighters and mine staff cannot stop the blaze in the volatile conditions and nearby residents in the towns of Morwell and Traralgon have been advised to leave.  Schools have closed, but the government has not supported a compulsory evacuation.  The majority of people in these towns are on a low income and cannot afford to shift. 

     While a smoke hazard alert on elevated carbon-monoxide levels was downgraded to an advisory status, doctors said they were treating an increasing number of locals for respiratory issues.  Miners are still working at the site to maintain the state's power supply and according to the ABC a ‘ man who has worked at the mine for more than 20 years, but who wanted to remain anonymous, said workers had concerns about the accuracy of carbon monoxide testers they had to wear.' [i]

    If people are being hospitalised due to fumes then safety personal are not doing their job properly.  The shadow emergency services minister Wade Noonan said ‘the situation was dangerous and complex, and the fires could burn for more than a month and produce elevated levels of carbon monoxide.'   A Victorian Work Cover Authority spokesman said it had made inquiries when informed about the incident and would continue to work with the Country Fire Authority if required. [ii]

    This situation in the mines should not surprise anyone. The mine has had ongoing problems.   The Morwell River collapsed into the nearby Yallourn open cut mine in 2012.  The mine has since been vulnerable to flooding.  Land subsidence caused the closure of the Princes Freeway which runs close to the mining precinct.  Infrastructure and people remain at risk.   However, seemingly nothing will deter the State and Federal Governments from injecting $45 million of Victorian taxpayer money to develop new coal projects.  A number of small towns are under threat of extinction due to new coal allocations.  It is crazy to be thinking about increasing coal when the impacts of climate change are already causing so much damage to businesses and communities.  Fierce summer fires are now plaguing the nation on an annual basis.  Similarly, winter floods are devastating. We should be cutting our carbon emissions not adding to them.

This coal-seam fire at the Hazlewood mine could burn for several weeks and it adds to the   number of safety related incidents in Victoria endangering public health, which are now unprecedented.   It goes to show that the Government regulators have lost control over mining companies and farmers, residents, visitors, wildlife and the beautiful countryside are being further plunged into evermore risky forms of industrialization.   Who benefits?  Most of the material gains will be shipped overseas to boost the profits of multinationals.

     As the air quality in communities in eastern Victoria continues to deteriorate and as officials battle the big fire in the Hazelwood open cut coal mine the costs of healthcare and services will escalate. The air quality at Morwell and Traralgon has hit a record low for the second time in a week.  The Environment Protection Authority [EPA] says any air quality index reading above 150 is very poor.   The air quality reading at Traralgon deteriorated to 460 and was 702 at Morwell.  Thick smoke from the blaze has spread as far as Sale, 65 kilometres away.

    The Deputy Premier Peter Ryan instructed the Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley to open a special centre to answer health-related and business questions for residents, but what is needed is assistance for residents to relocate away from the toxic smoke. There seems little sign of the fire being extinguished immediately.  This is a 30m thick coal seam that could burn for weeks along a three kilometre front. That could equal the emissions from a whole new dirty power station. [iii]   Where is the compassion?  Where is the common sense?

Dr Chris James is a researcher, writer and psychotherapist living and working in rural Victoria, Australia. She lives approximately fifty kilometres from Morwell and is active in the anti-coal movement. www.doctorchrisjames.com

[i] Air quality continues to deteriorate at Morwell, Traralgon, as ... - ABC

www. abc . net.au/news/2014-02-19/fears. .. hazelwood .../5268862?... ?

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[ii] Firefighters falling ill at coal mine fire - The Age

www.theage.com.au/.../ fire fighters-falling-ill-at- coal - mine - fire -2014021

[iii] Hazelwood fire highlights persistent problems and failures of ...

environmentvictoria.org.au newsroom   › Media Release ?




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