Graeme Wilson lives at Delburn, about 15km south of the recently closed Hazelwood coal-fired power station in the Latrobe Valley. He has seen an improvement in his family’s health since Hazelwood closed in April.
‘Up until this year, myself, my wife and the kids, before they left home, used to get respiratory problems and runny noses on a regular basis. Occasionally when there was a north wind, you’d wake up with a sore throat.
‘I have personally noticed an improvement in my health since the closure of Hazelwood. My sinuses have improved, I have had no respiratory problems or runny noses at all this season. I have felt much healthier.
‘We are located on the first ridge that surrounds the valley. Most of the time we enjoy clean air, with winds usually blowing from the south-east, or north-west.
‘On occasions when there is a north wind, it is usually hot, the power stations are at full power and we often used to get soot fallout, smoke haze from the valley. This was evidenced by the build up of black, sooty muck in our roof gutters. This seems to have all but disappeared since Hazelwood closed down.’
The fall-out reached extreme levels when the Hazelwood mine caught fire and burned for 45 days straight in 2014.
‘On the days when the wind was blowing from the north, the smoke and ash was blown towards our area. It did not really dissipate and disappear as the EPA would like people to believe. Our house and cars were covered in ash and a fine brown sulfur dust.
‘The brown dust was clearly in the air inside our house and we had no option but to breathe it. Every horizontal surface in the house was covered in dust.
‘I reported this to the authorities who had set up the Government Health Services in Morwell, but there was never any follow up. I tried reporting it to the EPA. They also did no follow up.
‘There was absolutely no communication about air pollution. The EPA didn’t monitor out our way. They wanted to pretend it was just around Morwell.
‘We’re on tank water. Our roof was covered in ash. The surface of the water was covered in an oily film. Whether it’s toxic or not, I don’t know. We did manage to get the Health Officer from the Baw Baw Shire to test our water but she only tested two samples taken from kitchen taps. This water is pumped from the bottom of the tank. What was on the surface?
‘I often wonder what chemicals were deposited on surrounding potato crops and whether the ash contained carcinogens from the mine fire that may have entered the food chain. I have been told anecdotally that local soils are more alkaline than they were before the mine fire.’