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Assessment of the affects of pit lakes on human health

The proposed project aims to examine possible impacts of human interaction with pit lakes. The project would be conducted in three stages. The first is a literature review of the health effects of the aspects of pit lakes including chemical contamination, pH and also injury. Stage 2 of the work will be to attain an understanding of how and how frequently the community is exposed to the pit lakes leading to the third stage, an assessment of the risks of exposure and health impacts. Stage 3 will produce a screening health risk assessment which will identify risks, management strategies, including management trigger levels to ensure protection of human health.

Government and community groups have expressed concerns about how open cut mining operations may affect human health and wellbeing through modified surface and groundwater regimes and their follow-on effects on environmental contamination and disease propagation. This project would use Collie as a case study to investigate how the formation of pit lakes may degrade or even improve health outcomes for mining communities living with these legacies.

Stage 1: Literature review of historic and new Collie pit lake characteristics, data collation of existing information and assessment of health impacts of identified parameters

This stage would require the complication of existing data on the chemical, physical and biological aspects of Collie pit lakes from the peer reviewed and available grey literature. As there is little data publicly available on Collie pit lakes, this data compilation would make extensive use of unpublished MiWER data. Project members from the MiWER team have an extensive dataset on water quality of most Collie pit lakes extending back more than a decade and intend to collect new data also which would all be available for the health study. In addition existing monitoring data will be used to determine concentrations of relevant parameters and hence their likely health effects. The literature review will outline the health effects associated with water temperature and other issues such as injury. The data collated in task 1 will be used to identify potential chemical and biological human health risks associated with pit lakes in Collie. A further literature review will also examine physical risks such as injury, water temperature and drowning. 

Stage 2: Community survey

To assess the use and perceived issues of using pit lakes a community survey will be undertaken via administration of a postal questionnaire. The questionnaire will be focussed on finding out how many people use the pit lakes, the purposes for which they use the lake, how often they use the lakes and for how long they have used the lakes and how they would like to use the lakes. We will also obtain data on health issues that may be associated with pit lake water and other potential confounding factors. The questionnaire will be designed based on the literature review. The population of Collie and surrounds is 7,194 persons and it is aimed to obtain information from approximately 10 per cent of the population. As response fractions are often low 1,500 questionnaires will be posted to a random sample of residents of Collie. The selection will be based on the electoral roll. A reply paid envelope will be provided. The data collected via questionnaire will be analysed and the information will inform the screening health risk assessment in Stage 3. A report on the questionnaire will be developed and will provide the agency with a variety of information on actual and perceived issues associated with pit lakes in the area. 

Stage 3: Screening health risk assessment

Health risk assessment is a systematic, transparent process of assessing the potential risks associated with exposure to environmental and physical parameters. It uses a standard methodology which is routinely accepted worldwide and provides managers with good information on how to prevent and minimise both actual and perceived risks. Based on Stages 1 and 2 risks will be determined based on the likelihood of them occurring, the consequence if they occur and therefore an assessment of the significance of the risk. This process also enables the development of triggers to manage issues to prevent risks from occurring. This stage will also identify any issues that require further investigation.


Researchers

Associate Professor Andrea Hinwood
The University of Western Australia, Associate Professor Jane Heyworth
Ms Helen Tanner
Dr Clint McCullough

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