While the community at the centre of Victoria’s coal-mine fire are being given 25,000 face masks by the local council, health officials say they do not expect smoke from the blaze to cause long term health issues.
The Hazelwood open cut mine fire has been burning for two weeks and is expected to continue for at least another two.
The fire is sending thick smoke into the neighbouring town of Morwell, with a population of 13,000, and has residents worried.
Victoria’s chief health officer Rosemary Lester said there were short-term health effects for vulnerable people, including the elderly, young children and those with certain medical conditions.
However, she said there were no concerns about long-term health effects at this stage.
“At this stage we don’t believe there is any concern about long-term health effects, but we will continue to monitor that,” Dr Lester said at a press conference on Monday.
“If we believe that there is any necessity to put out a stronger health message … then we will certainly do that.”
Dr Lester said the face masks distributed by the La Trobe City Council could help alleviate some of the short-term health effects.
But they had to be worn correctly and would not filter out carbon monoxide.
She also advised those concerned about their health to visit a respite centre – one has been set up in Moe – or attend a testing centre staffed by the Health Department and Ambulance Victoria.
Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said the fire was “complex” and difficult to fight, but firefighters were doing a good job.
So far they have managed to halve the fire activity at the open cut mine.
However, challenging weather conditions return on Tuesday with a chance of thunderstorms with lightening and a south-westerly wind change.
Mr Lapsley said evacuating Morwell was unlikely, but health and emergency services were monitoring environmental conditions and were prepared for the worst case scenario.