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Ash from a brown coal mine fire


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This page has been prepared so you know what to do to protect your health and the health of anyone in your care who may come into contact with ash during or after a brown coal mine fire.

For information about a specific fire or emergency incident, listen to your local emergency radio station for updates or visit www.emergency.vic.gov.au

If you are at the scene of an emergency, always follow the directions of emergency services, such as ambulance officers, police or fire services.

Key points about ash from a brown coal mine fire

  • Ash is produced when brown coal burns. Ash contains oxides of calcium, aluminium, potassium, sodium, iron and magnesium and in some cases oxides of sulfur.
  • Ash particles fall out of the smoke in locations near the fire. Ash is a fine powder that may be visible on surfaces.
  • Although too large to breathe into your lungs, ash particles may cause local irritation to the eyes, nose or throat. These health effects should resolve quickly. If not, call NURSE-ON-CALL on 1300 60 60 24 or seek medical advice.

Key points about smoke from a brown coal mine fire

  • Smoke from a brown coal mine fire contains fine particles, water vapour, gases including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides.
  • Smoke from a brown coal mine fire outside the Latrobe Valley may also contain oxides of sulfur.
  • For regular updates on what you should do, listen to your local emergency radio station or visit www.emergency.vic.gov.au
  • People with a heart or lung condition, including asthma, children (up to 14 years), pregnant women and people over 65 years of age are more sensitive to the effects of breathing in smoke.
  • If you have a heart or lung condition, take your medication as prescribed. Asthmatics should follow their personal asthma action plan and keep reliever medication on hand.
  • If you or anyone in your care is experiencing symptoms that may be due to smoke exposure, call NURSE-ON-CALL on 1300 60 60 24 or seek medical advice.
  • Anyone experiencing difficulty breathing, wheezing or tightness in the chest should seek urgent medical assistance – call 000.

Further information

Vic Emergency

For more information about specific incidents and emergencies go to www.emergency.vic.gov.au

Local emergency radio station

For current information about specific incidents and emergencies, listen to your local emergency radio station.

NURSE-ON-CALL

For immediate health advice from a registered nurse, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, call 1300 60 60 24.

Department of Health and Human Services

For more information on the health effects of smoke or ash from a brown coal mine fire, or rainwater tank water quality, call 1300 761 874 during business hours.

EPA Victoria

Information about air quality, other impacts of a fire on the environment or the transport and disposal of ash from brown coal mine fires is available from EPA Victoria on 1300 372 842 (1300 EPA VIC).

Local government

Contact your local council for updates on cleanup activities or advice about rainwater tank water quality.

 

Q&A on ash from a brown coal mine fire + Expand all Collapse all

  • Brown coal in Victoria

    Coal is formed from the buildup of layers of vegetation over thousands of years.

    Victorian brown coal generally contains a high amount of water, a low amount of sulfur and low levels of contaminants.

    When burning, Victorian brown coal produces less ash compared to other coal types.

    Latrobe Valley brown coal has very low sulfur content (less than 0.5 per cent dry weight). Anglesea and Bacchus Marsh brown coal contains sulfur (4 per cent dry weight).

  • What is in brown coal smoke?

    Every coalmine fire is different in size, how long it burns and the amount of smoke or ash produced. 

    The amount of smoke or coal ash in the community also depends on weather conditions and how close people live or work to the fire.

    Smoke from a brown coal mine fire:

    • can reduce air quality and affect people’s health
    • contains fine particles, water vapour, gases including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and, in some cases, oxides of sulfur
    • contains ash particles that are much larger than fine smoke particles.
  • What is in brown coal ash?

    Ash from a brown coal mine fire:

    • is usually present with the smoke
    • is made up of large particles that are not completely burned and fall out of the air onto surfaces as a fine powder
    • contains mainly oxides of calcium, aluminium, potassium, sodium, iron and magnesium
    • is similar to ash found in fireplaces.
  • How can smoke affect my health during a brown coal fire?

    How exposure to smoke affects your health depends on your age, whether you have an existing medical condition, how active you are in smoky conditions and how long you are exposed to the smoke.

    People with a heart or lung condition, including asthma, children (up to 14 years), pregnant women and people over 65 years of age are more sensitive to the effects of breathing in smoke.

    If you have a heart or lung condition, take medication as prescribed by your doctor.

    Asthmatics should follow their personal asthma action plan and keep reliever medication on hand.

    If you or anyone in your care experiences symptoms that may be due to smoke exposure call NURSE-ON-CALL on 1300 60 60 24 or seek medical advice.

    Call 000 if anyone is having difficulty breathing or is experiencing wheezing or tightness in the chest.

  • How can ash affect my health during a brown coal fire?

    Coalmine fires produce smoke and ash.

    Although too large to breathe into the lungs, ash particles in smoke may irritate the eyes, nose or throat.

    If these effects do not resolve quickly once you have moved away from the falling ash, seek medical advice.

  • What can I do to protect my health during a brown coal fire?

    Ash

    If you come into contact with ash, wash it off your hands, face and neck as needed. If ash gets in your eyes, gently wash it out with clean water.

    Practice good hygiene – wipe down surfaces with soap and water. 

    Smoke

    During a fire, listen to your local emergency radio station or visit www.emergency.vic.gov.au for regular updates on air quality and what you should do.

    During smoky conditions, avoid physical outdoor exercise or heavy physical activity. People with an existing heart or lung condition should rest as much as possible.

    If you are not under threat from a fire, stay indoors away from the smoke. Keep windows and doors closed.

    If it is hot and you operate an air-conditioner, switch it to ‘recirculate’ or ‘reuse air’. This limits the amount of smoke particles coming inside.

    If your home is uncomfortable, and it is safe to do so,  consider taking a break away from the smoke. Visit an area not affected by the smoke or visit a local air-conditioned building such as a library, community centre or shopping centre.

    If it is safe to do so, check on elderly neighbours or other people who you think might need extra help.
  • What about wearing a face mask

    It is better to stay inside away from the smoke, unless you cannot avoid working outside.

    Ordinary paper dust masks, handkerchiefs or bandannas may reduce exposure to large ash particles but do not protect you from fine smoke particles or gases.

    Special face masks (P2 masks) provide better protection from breathing in fine smoke particles.

    Before deciding to use a P2 mask, note that:

    • they can be hot and uncomfortable to wear and make it harder to breathe normally
    • anyone with an existing heart or lung condition should seek medical advice before using one
    • they do not provide a close seal if someone has a beard
    • they are not designed for a child’s face
    • they do not protect you from gases such as carbon monoxide.
  • Can ash affect my health after a brown coal fire?

    When the fire is out, a fine powdery ash may be visible on surfaces near the location of the fire.

    Brown coal ash is generally not very hazardous, however it is important to clean up any ash to prevent skin or eye contact and possible irritation.
  • Cleaning up ash

    Practice good hygiene – wipe down indoor surfaces with water. If a surface film is visible, wash with soap and water.

    Prevent young children playing near the ash until the area is cleaned up.

    Seek further advice from your local council on cleanup activities.
  • I am concerned about the health of my pets. What should I do?

    During smoky conditions, and if practical to do so, bring pets indoors with you.

    If you have any concerns about the health of your pets consult your local vet.

  • I am concerned about the health of my animals. What should I do?

    If you have any concerns about the health of your animals, consult a vet or the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning Customer Service Centre on 136 186.

  • Can I drink water from my rainwater tank?

    If water from your rainwater tank tastes, looks or smells unusual, do not use it for drinking or bathing, or for pets.

    Contact the environmental health officer at your local council or the Department of Health and Human Services for more information.

  • Can ash from a coal mine fire affect plants in my garden?

    Although ash is generally fine for the garden, a dense ash buildup may smother plants and limit their growth and survival.

  • Can I eat vegetables, fruit or herbs from my garden if they have ash on them?

    Always use common sense when deciding whether food is safe to eat. Vegetables, fruit or herbs should be washed thoroughly prior to eating or cooking.

    If you do not wish to eat your produce, affected vegetation can be wasted and composted.

  • My house smells of smoke. What should I do?

    If your house smells of smoke after the fire is out:

    • open the house to sunlight and fresh air
    • air soft furnishings in the sunshine
    • wipe down indoor surfaces with water. If surface film is visible, wash with soap and water.
  • What about clothing left outdoors?

    If clothes were on the clothesline during smoky conditions, rewash them to remove any smoky smell and possible ash that could irritate sensitive skin. If smoke is still present, dry clothes indoors or in a drier.

Page last updated on 29 Dec 2017