Mine fire health study needs Sale participants

At a recent training night, Sale Football-Netball Club urged its members to get behind the Hazelwood Health Study. Pictured standing (from left) are senior football coach Shane Fyfe, netballer Kim Booth, A grade netball coach Jo Ballinger and netball committee member Kris Morrison. Seated are club president Sam Morelli and senior footballer Ben Dessent.

At a recent training night, Sale Football-Netball Club urged its members to get behind the Hazelwood Health Study. Pictured standing (from left) are senior football coach Shane Fyfe, netballer Kim Booth, A grade netball coach Jo Ballinger and netball committee member Kris Morrison. Seated are club president Sam Morelli and senior footballer Ben Dessent.

THE Hazelwood Health Study team has stepped up its efforts to encourage Sale residents to support its large-scale adult survey, in light of a low participation rate so far.

At this stage, less than 10 percent of the adults targeted in Sale have chosen to participate in the adult survey.

"This means we have no health information for the remaining 90 percent," study investigator Professor Judi Walker said.

The study has been set up to monitor the long-term health impacts of the Hazelwood Mine Fire which blanketed Morwell and the surrounding area in smoke and ash for six weeks in February and March, 2014.

"It is critical that the study be able to compare the health of the Morwell residents with that of a Gippsland town that was minimally exposed, and Sale residents have been chosen as this important comparison group," Professor Walker said.

She said participation by the Sale community would also contribute to findings which were expected to be "vitally important to planning for the future health of Sale itself and the wider region."

Five areas of Sale with a similar profile to Morwell are being targeted, with all eligible adults being asked to complete a 30-minute questionnaire about their cardiovascular and respiratory health, and proximity to the mine fire.

The questionnaire can be completed over-the-phone, online or on a paper form.

The study also seeks participants' permission to access some general health information such as hospital, ambulance and cancer registry records, but this does not include details of private conversations with doctors or test results.

About 1300 adults from two areas of Sale have so far been invited to participate, with mailed invitation packs and follow-up phone calls from Hunter Research Foundation, the survey-specialist organisation selected to manage this part of the study.

From this week a third area, bound by Raglan, Lansdowne and Macarthur Sts, Guthridge Parade, Inglis and Patten Sts, will be invited.

Those who choose to take part will receive a $20 Shop in Sale e-voucher, redeemable at a wide range of local businesses, to compensate for their time.

"We understand Sale residents may not see it as a priority to participate in a study which relates to a smoke event which mostly affected Morwell, however the reason we need the support of eligible adults in Sale is so that we can understand the true extent and impacts of the exposure," Professor Walker said.

"We are also confident that our evidence will contribute in a significant way to future health and emergency planning for all Gippslanders, not only those who live in Morwell."

One local club to show its goodwill is the Sale Football Netball Club.

In recent weeks, the club has met to discuss participation in the study and encouraged its members to take the time to complete the adult survey.

"We see ourselves as being part of the wider Gippsland community and we know the mine fire had a devastating impact on the people of Morwell," said club president Sam Morelli.

"So we have asked our members to complete the adult survey, as it is important to the outcomes of the Hazelwood Health Study."

"We hope that by showing our support, and encouraging others to do the same, the research team is able to collect the evidence it needs to inform future health planning for all of Gippsland," he added.

Professor Walker said the research team appreciated the support of the club and she hoped others local organisations and clubs would follow suit.

"We want to hear back from all eligible adults who receive our invitation to participate, whether they are young, old, well or unwell, regardless of whether they think they were impacted by the smoke event or not and even if they were away at the time of the fire," she said.

Professor Walker said if residents had already opted not to complete the survey it was not too late to 'opt back in'.

They can do so by following the instructions in their invitation pack, or phoning 1800 985 899 (toll free) or visiting hazewloodhealthystudy.org.au/research-areas/adult-survey/adult-survey-faqs/ for more information.

Professor Walker also urged any community groups who were keen to know more about the adult survey, to make contact.

"One of our study team may be able to attend a meeting, provide more and help to facilitate people's participation," she added.

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