An exploration of the trajectory of psychological distress associated with exposure to smoke during the 2014 Hazelwood coal mine fire

Matthew Carroll, Timothy C. H. Campbell, Catherine L. Smith, Caroline X. Gao, Darryl Maybery, Emily Berger, David Brown, Shantelle Allgood, Jonathan C. Broder, Jillian Ikin, Alexander McFarlane, Malcolm R. Sim, Judi Walker, Michael J. Abramson

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6 Citations (Scopus)


Due to climate change, catastrophic events such as landscape fires are increasing in frequency and severity. However, relatively little is known about the longer-term mental health outcomes of such events. Follow-up was conducted of 709 adults exposed to smoke from the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire in Morwell, Victoria, Australia. Participants completed two surveys evaluating posttraumatic distress, measured using the Impact of Events Scale-Revised (IES-R), three and six years after the mine fire. Mixed-effects regression models were used to evaluate longitudinal changes in distress. IES-R total scores increased on average by 2.6 points (95%CI: 1.2 to 3.9 points) between the two survey rounds, with increases across all three posttraumatic distress symptom clusters, particularly intrusive symptoms. This increase in distress was evident across all levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) exposure to the mine fire smoke. Age was an effect modifier between mine fire PM2.5 exposure and posttraumatic distress, with younger adults impacted more by exposure to the mine fire. Greater exposure to PM2.5 from the mine fire was still associated with increased psychological distress some six years later, with the overall level of distress increasing between the two survey rounds. The follow-up survey coincided with the Black Summer bushfire season in south-eastern Australia and exposure to this new smoke event may have triggered distress sensitivities stemming from exposure to the earlier mine fire. Public health responses to disaster events should take into consideration prior exposures and vulnerable groups, particularly younger adults.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113946
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


  • Air pollution
  • Environmental disasters
  • Mine fire
  • PM exposure
  • Posttraumatic distress

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