A Latrobe Valley Family 27/3/14
As I see people struggle to breath I am attempting to make sense of the madness I have witnessed in Morwell and surrounds.
I watch the toxic smoke pour into our air and am appalled at the lack of action by our health authorities. I have concerns about all of our health but especially the health of our children. It didn't take long on the internet to know the smoke was bad for everyone.
The studies are out there. The more harmful PM2.5 & PM.1 particles, many of which are carcinogenic and a known cause of many debilitating and or terminal diseases including cancer, were not spoken of for over 3 weeks by the health authorities. The results from the VOC testing were never announced. The monitoring of air by the EPA was substandard and very late in coming. People were not given the appropriate information for the community to make an infomed opinion.
General pollution in cities is damaging enough (and well documented) without the added dangers of a coal seam mine fire. Power stations burn the coal at a very high temperature and have to follow rigid filtering and collecting processes for the many dangerous particles/gasses, the chimneys are 250 ft in the air, but our fire is smoldering and without a chimney.
There are so many people to question how we got in this situation, let alone how it has been managed, especially the nondisclosure from the health authorities about the dangers. Dust masks were adequate until the last day of Feb?? Residents had breathed the toxins in for weeks, without appropriate warning.
The mine face in question and most threatening to Morwell hasn't been mined for at least 30 years and the Kennett government sold the mine with the face exposed. The mine has been allowed to be passed around to many and no-one has made them fulfill their mine licence obligations and close the unused face. This face has caused many problems in the past and still it has been allowed to remain unsealed. Who is Auditing these business's? Who are the watchers and enforcers of such rules. The mine dust has been allowed to blanket Morwell on a much larger scale than necessary because of a lack of policing for years.
This fire if nothing else has brought some real issues to light.
Who is watching the watchers??
Why did we sell an asset making 100 million a year, employing thousands of locals, which focused on safety and preventative maintenance to an international company without them having to keep the same standard?
Why did the government not cap the mine before selling it in 1996
Why was the mine not decommissioned in 2005 as was ordered due to pollution levels being emitted.
Why has the north face not been capped and re-vegetated as required by law
Why was a loan of $688 mill given to GDF Suez, and on what terms was this agreement made and by whom.
What government funding has gone into Hazelwood Station to implement cleaner emissions and has this been regulated?
Do GDF Suez pay Council rates?
Do they pay a fire services levy?
Who is going to care for health of the residents who were left to breath all these toxins in?
And in the face of this current disaster, why the hell would we be thinking to allow 13 more coal mines to open and export our coal, fulfilling the international need but damaging our environment, health and future generations existence?
Most of the things in our life were possible because my Dad worked really hard at a mine or power station in the Latrobe Valley. He started driving dozers and worked his way through to a Unit Controller and later a Trainer/Assessor. He was at Hazelwood when it was commissioned in the late 70s. My Dad is now Semi Retired but still works with many in the Industry.
How sad would it be for him to watch his grandchildren die from something that once bought so much to his life.
I don't believe any economic decision is a good enough reason to hand our children a future with fossil fuels as the main source of generation. Many jobs could be created if we started to broaden our means of production through renewable resources. It is imperative for our grandchildren's children that we stop putting profit first, and make corporations responsible for environmental and health issues before profit for share holders.
I think it absolutely necessary to change our air quality standards and enforce the monitoring of these harmful particles. Especially in areas of highest risk. I think the people deserve nothing less than the basic right to clean air. We could lead the way in a new philosophy of transparency and accountability.
There are so many more things we could be doing to decrease the risks in the future, and awareness is the first step of many.