Victoria’s Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley is ordering new tests on water used to fight the fire in the Hazelwood coal mine amid concerns for the safety of the firefighters working there.
The United Firefighters Union (UFU) paid $9,000 for independent testing of water used in the mine after 13 firefighters contacted the union with concerns about their safety.
One firefighter has had to have surgery and 22 stitches in his hand, after a small cut became infected.
The occupational hygienist who carried out the test was horrified because they revealed extreme levels of E-coli and other dangerous bacteria which could get into small cuts and cause septicaemia.
The firefighting union’s Mick Tisbury says the safety of the firefighters is the paramount concern.
“There’s been a lot of concern shown for the residents of Morwell, and rightly so,” he said.
“There’s been bugger all concern shown for the actual firefighters in the hole.
“Morwell South’s been evacuated, but the firefighters, we’ve got not choice mate. We’ve got to expose ourselves to this stuff.”
Mr Lapsley says the tests done by the UFU were broader than the ones done by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA).
“We’re have asked EPA to change their test regime to do the same as what the UFU have done in their independent review and have a look at those samples as well,” he said.
“We took advice and obviously have gone down a certain road.
“UFU have gone a little bit further. (We) give them credit for that. We’ll change our regime to get that right.
“I think the critical thing about this is about firefighter safety.”
Firefighters have now been directed to wear special gloves and eye protection.
Premier Denis Napthine says his thoughts are with the firefighters, but his advice is that the water and the air quality is clear.
Flood of information from public about cause of mine fire
Meanwhile, Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay says police have received a flood of information from the public about the deliberately lit fire that spread to the coal mine.
The fire started at Driffield, south of the mine, on February 9 and spread across bush and grassland and into the open cut.
Commissioner Lay says police have had more than 100 calls from people with information.
He says investigators are piecing together how the fire started and the intent of the arsonist.
“I’m very positive that our investigation’s moving forward in a positive manner. Hopefully we’ll get a result in the not too distant future,” he said.