Smoke and errors

Thursday, September 11, 2014

So why isn’t the Government accepting recommendation 5 of the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry? Peter Ryan claims it’s just too difficult to get carbon monoxide monitoring equipment to a site within 24 hours. Yeah? How long does it take to drive a hand held CO monitoring device from Melbourne to Victoria’s far ends? 6-7 hours max.

recommendation 5 of the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry

The real answer is more likely to be due to the government wanting to avoid any exposure of its own deliberate annual air pollution.
Flaggy Creek smoke from DSE burn

We have all suffered the choking smoke of government autumn burns, more so since 2009. These government decreed pollution events could often prove to exceed health limits for CO and the very dangerous and carcinogenic fine particulate matter called PM2.5.

In an emergency it is the DEPI Incident Controllers that have the responsibility to notify the public when the smoke reaches levels that are dangerous to public health. This little fact came from the Chief Health Officer during the mine fire inquiry (there’s a footnote link to her evidence from the transcript at page T.1155 to T.1160) hazelwoodinquiry.vic.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/HMFI-040614-Day08.pdf

Smoke isn’t just a short term annoyance that effects the elderly or those with respiratory problems. Even for healthy people it has irritants, carcinogens and toxins. Then there is also the less easy to detect but deadly carbon monoxide danger. If this reaches 9ppm it should require a community to be evacuated, which is of course costly for governments. You can see why they'd prefer they didn't know how bad it was. A bit like not looking for endangered wildlife before they log.

If the government refuses to accept a simple recommendation to carry out air testing in situations dangerous to public health, then what use are the other recs relating to responding to that information?

We have the recs of two inquiries at odds with each other here – the 2009 Bushfire Royal Commission recommended (despite no scientific back-up) a trebling of annual burns, creating masses of pollution that threatens community health. And now the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry that recognises the health dangers of smoke, wants to limit the smoke impacts and ensure an appropriate response to unhealthy levels of smoke and carbon monoxide.

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