Mine fire inquiry opening again
The Hazelwood mine fire inquiry will be re-opened to investigate the chance that smoke from the blaze caused premature deaths.
In February last year, a coal mine fire at the Hazelwood mine near the Victorian town of Morwell burned for 45 days, dousing the town in thick, acrid smoke.
Dozens of fire-fighters were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning, but vulnerable residents were told it was safe for several weeks.
The recommendations of the original inquiry in 2014 saw tough new fire regulations introduced for coal mine operators, and more than $25 million in Government funding set aside to implement them.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews now says he believes people died due to air pollution, and it deserves further investigation.
“What occurred here was wrong and we owe it everybody impacted by this, particularly those brave men and women who were right here in front, right in the middle of that danger, fighting that fire and to everybody affected that we learn from that fire and we make better preparations for the future,” Mr Andrews said.
“I think those families and the entire community have a right to know what were the exact impacts of the Hazelwood mine fire.”
Many locals, including community group Voices of the Valley, say that the original inquiry did not have enough time to look into important health issues.
It is a call backed by the findings of Queensland University of Technology air pollution expert Adrian Barnett, who says there is a high probability that pollution from the fire played a role in numerous deaths.
Dr Denis Napthine was Premier at the time of the fire, when he expressed confidence that the State Government got the right advice about the potential health impacts of the mine fire.
“We've acted responsibly and appropriately in tackling what was a difficult fire situation,” Dr Napthine said in 2014.
“In supporting the families, supporting the community and putting into place an independent inquiry and adopting the recommendations of that inquiry.”
The terms of reference for the new inquiry are expected to be unveiled by May this year, with unconfirmed reports that Bernard Teague will reprise his role as chair.