Long-time environmental campaigner and school teacher Dan Caffrey lives 13km away from the Hazelwood coal mine fire that has now been burning for a month.
He worries what long-term impact the fire will have on children and the vulnerable, and whether the government’s current response is adequate.
“Two primary schools moved their students from Morwell to Moe, but a couple of primary schools and the high school are still operating, so there are still gaps in the health precautions that are being taken,” he said.
The VicWind member and Latrobe Valley Sustainability Group secretary has campaigned to promote more clean energy for many years. He stood in front of the Hazelwood Power Station in October 2011 with fellow LVSG members holding placards calling for a price on carbon.
His group has also encouraged governments to promote the development of “sun-rise” renewable energy industries and help mitigate climate change.
However over the past month he’s had frequent wafts of smoke and reminders of the fires at his own home in Traralgon, and his tank water has a new, strange taste to it. Even the tap water has a different tang.
Dan went to the passionate Morwell community meeting last Sunday and observed more than 1200 people who were feeling left out, abandoned and often unwell.
“From what I understand, the health impact of this fire for people living near the site is probably like smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.
“The value of houses in Morwell has dropped overnight, and CFMEU (union) representative Luke van der Meulen has called on the mine owners to be made to cap the mine with one metre of clay and soil once this fire is out, otherwise one little spark will set this off again.
“There’s enough anger in the valley to put the magnifying glass on mine owners GDF Suez and all coal mines now,” Dan said.
The campaigner said the community would have a revived interest in renewable energy once the fire was out and life had started returning to normal for the region’s residents.
“Tony Abbott is arguing that renewables are expensive now, but brown coal-burning power station owners have been getting away with not having to pay for a lot of things: the greenhouse gases they create and the rehabilitation of land, for example.
“Brown coal electricity is not cheap energy if one factors in these costs in as well as the costs to the health budget from respiratory illnesses and the cost of the recent fire fighting efforts and the repairs to the Yallourn mine after both the Latrobe and Morwell Rivers flooded the mine in the last 6 years.
“We also have bad asthma problems down here before the fire that started on February 9; asthma at twice the level of the rest of Victoria, in the last figures that we could source. The companies have not had to pay for the health impact on community members. We (the LVSG) will be going hard on these issues,” he said.
All the best, Dan and the LVSG. You are in our thoughts as we argue for less coal and more renewables, too.
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