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Sydney smoke: Why the city is blanketed, and whether it’s dangerous

Sydney smoke: Why the city is blanketed, and whether it’s dangerous
28 May
11:21

By Marion Ives

Updated May 29, 2018 11:11:42

Smoke has descended on Sydney this morning — not for the first time this Autumn — and, according to pollution experts, it could have serious impacts on your health.

There have been at least 11 days when the air quality was rated “poor” this month.

Including today, six days have been considered “hazardous”, which triggered a warning to older people, children and those with heart or lung disease to avoid all outdoor exercise. For everyone else, reducing activity is advised.

An air quality level of 677, which far exceeds the trigger for the hazardous rating, was recorded in Sydney’s north-west on Monday. This morning, the rating was 476.

The highest levels of pollution were recorded towards the end of the week and over the weekend, just when Sydneysiders want to enjoy the outdoors and play sport.

What’s causing it?

The Rural Fire Service has been taking advantage of dry weather to carry out hazard reduction burns around Sydney.

The RFS said this reduced the risk of fire to hundreds of homes.

However, the smoke blows into the Sydney basin.

The RFS issues information about hazard reduction burns and fires on its website, and on social media.

Typically, it does not predict where the smoke will impact or how much pollution it will cause.

But, the Office of Environment and Heritage issues hourly updates on its website when poor air quality exceeds national health standards and sends out SMS and email alerts to subscribers.

Do we take poor air seriously?

Wood smoke is the largest source of the fine particles that penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream.

Data from the Centre for Air pollution, energy and health Research (CAR) shows hazard reduction burns and bushfires were linked to almost 200 premature deaths and more than 1,200 hospitalisations in Sydney over a 12-year period.

Long-term exposure to PM2.5 particles — those smaller than 2.5 micrometres — also causes 520 premature deaths each year in Sydney, according to the NSW Environment Protection Authority.

CAR has recommended health risks be factored into managing fires and has called for better collaboration between health, environment and fire authorities.

Asthma Australia senior manager Anthony Flynn said fire protection measures must balance with health requirements.

“Air quality is one area where people don’t have a choice,” Mr Flynn said.

“So, those responsible for creating poor air need to assume the cost and consequences of their actions and invest in whatever they can to help asthma sufferers stay out of trouble.

“As a community it’s important to stop bushfires, but it’s also important to reduce the hazard for people with asthma and breathing difficulties.”

Asthma Australia has health and prevention information on its website.

Topics: fires, air-pollution, pollution, environment, sydney-2000, nsw

First posted May 29, 2018 09:02:33

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