The Victorian government has failed in its duty of care to Latrobe Valley residents, who now face a wait of more than 20 years to discover the full health effects of the Hazelwood mine fire, experts say.
Residents in the region may not know whether their long-term health was affected by the February blaze because of a lack of air, soil and water pollutant monitoring, according to a panel of health and environment experts.
Some potentially fatal respiratory and heart diseases could take up to 20 years to develop, leading to calls for an ongoing study funded by the Victorian government to track the health of Morwell locals as well as a national standard in air, water and soil quality monitoring.
Climate and Health Alliance president Liz Hanna said the mine operators and government agencies were derelict in their duty to protect local residents’ health from the toxic smoke and ash that blanketed the town for 45 days.
However, those affected by the Hazelwood mine fire may not be the only people at risk.
Those living within 50 kilometres of coal mines or power stations are up to four times more likely to develop serious illnesses, the panel led by former Australians of the Year Fiona Stanley and Tim Flannery said on Wednesday.
Professor Stanley labelled Australia’s current level of pollutant monitoring as “pathetic” and said it was abhorrent people’s health was being put at risk by negligent governments ignoring the health impacts of coal.
“It’s a negligence, I think it’s very clearly a lack of care,” Prof Stanley told AAP.
“Government doesn’t want to bite the bullet but we need to lobby strongly for the government to pick up (pollutant monitoring) if the industry isn’t going to.”
A joint statement said while coal is considered a cheap source of power, its cost does not take into account the estimated $2.6 billion burden on taxpayers for health treatment associated with coal-fired electricity.
The statement recommended funding by research agencies to be allocated to further evaluate the health, social and environment impacts of coal.
Australia is heavily reliant on coal with it accounting for about 75 per cent of the nation’s energy supply.
An inquiry into the Hazelwood fire recommended a health study being undertaken by the health department in the area should be extended to 20 years.
A report, tabled in parliament on Tuesday, found that not enough was done to prevent the coal mine fire and residents should have been told earlier to get out of the town that was blanketed by toxic smoke and ash for 45 days.