LETTER TO THE EDITOR:
THE Hazelwood Health Study researchers welcome the opportunity to respond to Ms Allitt's letter headed 'Wondering at the mine fire study', concerned about the inclusion of Sale in the study.
Sale residents, who were minimally exposed to the mine fire smoke, have been invited to participate in the adult survey stream of the study as a comparison community to Morwell, which was more highly exposed.
An alternative "properly conducted scientific study" that Ms Allitt suggests, involves investigating health records before and after the mine fire.
That design, which epidemiologists would call a case-series, is indeed part of the adult survey, where participants can choose to give permission for their health records to be linked to exposure data.
Unfortunately, health information is rarely collected in any standardised way across patients, medical professionals and allied health services, towns and time.
As a result, if we were to only compare health records before and after the mine fire, that would be insufficient to provide robust findings.
The adult survey is greatly strengthened by following an epidemiological cohort design, with the inclusion of Sale as a comparison group.
This allows us to track the pattern of health changes in Morwell over time, against the pattern of health changes in a similar community (Sale), and observe differences between the two which might be attributable to the mine fire, if other risk factors in the two towns are similar.
Interested residents are invited to go to the Hazelwood Health Study website for more information, hazelwoodhealthstudy.org.au, or to phone 1800 985899 to discuss any questions or concerns.