Australia still fighting coal mine fire that made town look 'like Mordor,' though toxic fumes reduced

The Australian town of Morwell can now breathe a small sigh of relief after the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) reported that toxic particles in the air are at their lowest levels since the Hazelwood coal mine fire started a month ago.

The fumes from the coal mine fire which began in early February engulfed Morwell in the Latrobe Valley, exposing residents to carcinogenic air pollutants. It's been reported that an arsonist started the fire.

The fire was so extreme that some media outlets compared it to 'Mordor.'

Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) warned last week that the burning coal was releasing abornmally high levels of PM2.5 – "which has been classified as a class one carcinogen alongside tobacco smoke and asbestos," the Guardian reported.

“Our latest air quality monitoring data report for the entire Latrobe Valley region shows the overall levels of PM2.5 and CO have declined dramatically in recent days,” EPA CEO John Merritt said in a statement on Monday. “This is in large part due to the extraordinary efforts of Victorian and interstate firefighters."

The EPA will continue to monitor air quality 24 hours per day, as even when the fire is out the smoke will linger.

"And I want to assure residents and businesses based on the advice of our scientists, and in consultation with emergency services and the Department of Health, we will only scale back monitoring when appropriate …," Merritt added.

The EPA also issued a low level smoke alert for the Latrobe Valley on Monday, indicating that "residents will see smoke impacts today, with visibility reduced to between 10 – 20 kilometres due to high particle concentrations in the air."

The elderly, young children, pregnant women and anyone with a pre-existing heart and lung condition living or working in the southern part of Morwell have been advised to relocate temporarily.

The Hazelwood mine is owned by GDF SUEZ Hazelwood and feeds the adjacent coal-fired power station.

The company has been fighting back claims that it wasn't prepared to deal with the fire, saying that 'misinformation' was spreading in the community about the mine's fire service infrastructure.

It's believed that the fire could go on for another few months.