There has been some public discussion recently about expert advice regarding potential health risks associated with the Burnie woodchip pile. The Director of Public Health has provided the following summary.
The Burnie woodchip pile was a significant source of wind-blown dust particles in previous years and its environmental management was an appropriate issue to have raised in 2002. Extensive dust suppression measures were put in place at the time in conjunction with an environmental management plan.
It is important to note that there has not been a case of legionella notified from the Burnie area since 2001.
The Public and Environmental Health Service is still investigating and considering the issues raised more recently by Dr Steele, as well as other possible aspects raised by Dr Frank Nicklason, to assess whether there remains any risk to public health from the site. Part of this work included commissioning the acknowledged national expert on legionella, Professor Richard Bentham, for further advice. We also helped facilitate a site visit by Dr Steele to enable him to assess the situation first-hand. He reported to us that he felt there was little or no risk of wind-blown legionella at the time of his visit given the state of the woodchip pile at that time.
At this stage it appears the key to successful management of the woodchip pile is dust control. The EPA has advised that the existing measures have been working effectively for a number of years, and I have asked for more up-to-date site monitoring information.
It is our intention to respond more fully to Drs Nicklason and Steele at a later date when the various pieces of evidence have been collated.
Dr Roscoe Taylor
Director of Public Health