Research suggests the Morwell coal mine fire may have triggered a 15 per cent increase in the death rate in the Victorian town.
The Victorian government is again defending its response to the Morwell coalmine fire, after a statistical analysis suggests the death rate increased when the town was shrouded in smoke.
The analysis by a Queensland academic shows a high probability the death rate was above average during, and since, the 45-day fire at the Hazelwood coalmine.
The death rate may have increased by as much as 15 per cent.
There was an outcry in March when official advice to Morwell residents was upgraded only after a month of exposure to the smoke, and the advice recommended a limited evacuation of at-risk people.
“We followed, as a government, the right advice given to us by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), by the health department and the chief medical officer,” Victorian Premier Denis Napthine told reporters on Saturday.
“We’ve had an independent inquiry headed by Justice Bernard Teague – we’re adopting all of the recommendations of that inquiry and credit to all of those people who fought that fire under difficult conditions.
“We’ve acted responsibly, and appropriately, in tackling what was a difficult fire situation.”
Associate Professor Adrian Barnett, of the Queensland University of Technology, examined Morwell death rate statistics over the past five years and says there was an 89 per cent probability it was 15 per cent higher than usual.
“I believe that a thorough investigation is warranted and the sooner this is done the better,” he said on Saturday.
Prof Barnett said his evidence had been sent to the Victorian coroner with a request for a coronial inquest.
State coroner Ian Gray told ABC Television he would consider the request after receiving information.
The Teague inquiry found residents should have been told to leave the town almost two weeks before they were eventually told to get out.
It also called for a 20-year health study of residents of the Latrobe Valley to monitor ongoing health effects.
Victorian Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews said the Teague inquiry should be re-opened to consider the analysis, which amounted to “very clear evidence that there has been a spike in the death rate”.
“Perhaps 11 people died as a result of their air quality. I think that needs to be investigated in full,” Mr Andrews told reporters.
He questioned why the Teague inquiry did not examine the same data, and said it was a further example of the Napthine government botching its response.
“The people of Morwell have been betrayed and abandoned by a government that really, at every turn, botched the emergency response, botched the clean-up – it would now seem like they have botched the inquiry into their own incompetence.”