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Bushfires are a very real issue facing residents around the world.

The irreparable damage caused by bushfires can be very traumatic. But there’s a less spoken hidden health hazard related to fires: Smoke.

Over the last few days the conditions have been ideal for bush regeneration, causing a pall of smoke and haze to hang over areas in Sydney. This smoke has the added issue of a lack of visibility. Drivers in particular need to take care when driving in such conditions.

Usually, Sydney’s air quality is considered good to very good, according to the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, which has an air quality data index which is updated every hour. Check the site for more information about your current air quality.

Bush fires can result in a large amount of smoke particles and pollens which are easily transported throughout the state by wind. Increased particulate matter in the air irritate airways and have been shown to have adverse health effects on cardio-respiratory health.

The particles are measured at Particulate Matter PM10 and PM2.5. The larger particles with a diameter less than 10 micrometres are usually trapped in the nose and throat and swallowed. The smaller particles with a diameter less than 2.5 micrometres, often referred to as ‘fine particles’ are unpleasant, unhealthy and have nowhere else to go except your lungs and cause irritation.

Smoke Hazards

Bushfire smoke is a mixture of different-sized particles, water vapour and gases, including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides according to Queensland Government When you can no longer clearly see a landmark this means air quality has deteriorated advises Environment Protection Agency. Estimate the visible distance, by observation of the nearest landmark that is just obscured by the smoke. Health category ‘unhealthy – sensitive’ has cautionary health advice that suggests practical ways you can reduce your exposure to PM2.5 in smoke visibility down to 5 to 10 kilometres and ‘unhealthy – all’ visibility down to 2 to 5 klm.

Symptoms Related to Smoke Irritation

Smoke irritation is of particular concern to those with existing illnesses such as asthma, bronchitis, hay fever, allergies and lung conditions as these can be further aggravated according to EPA Victoria (2017).

  • acute itchy or burning eyes and throat,
  • runny nose,
  • coughing or shortness of breath,
  • headaches.

Children, the elderly and those with respiratory conditions are most vulnerable and need to take extra precautions. People who are otherwise healthy can be adversely affected by high bush fire pollution levels as well and are encouraged to avoid running or exercising outside.

Advise by Authorities

Those inhabitants that are at risk from bush fire smoke should

  • pay attention to media reports
  • stay inside with doors and windows closed
  • drink plenty of water
  • try to stay cool
  • don’t exercise outside
  • asthma sufferers should follow their asthma action plan
  • as well those with people heart or lung problems, make sure you always have at least 5 days’ worth of medication with you.

Where possible, the best treatment is to avoid smoke polluted environments and find cleaner air. Air conditioned rooms provide welcome relief,  whether at home or in a friend’s place, in the shopping centres, library, art gallery, restaurant, movie theatre according to Department of Health Western Australia.

Consider Hiring an Air Purifier

Breathe easier, sleep soundly and feel better by improving your indoor air quality.

Air Purifiers

Mitey Fresh air purifier hire and sales provide you round the clock protection, effectively removing airborne pollutants and particulate matter from smoke when you need it most down to 0.3 microns, smaller than PM2.5.

Learn more with Mitey Fresh

Towards healthier living Carol Parr ♥

As Building Biologists, we have acquired knowledge of adverse health effects and recommend effective strategies to reduce occupants’ exposure by eliminating and controlling as many sources of pollutants in order to create healthy indoor living environments that are as exposure-free and natural as practically possible.

References:

Environment Protection Agency Victoria. 2017. Effects of Smoke. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.epa.vic.gov.au/your-environment/air/smoke/effects-of-smoke. [Accessed 30 November 2018].

Queensland Government. 2018. Bushfire Smoke and Your Health. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.qld.gov.au/health/staying-healthy/environmental/after-a-disaster/bushfires/bushfire-smoke-and-your-health. [Accessed 30 November 2018].

Queensland Government. nd. Smoke Hazards from Bushfires. [ONLINE] Available at: https://healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/S_T/Smoke-hazard-from-bushfires. [Accessed 30 November 2018].

Carol Parr

Author Carol Parr

Carol Parr is a Building Biologist and Healthy Home Wizard. She has worked with asthma and allergy sufferers in their homes and work places for over twenty years, specialising in mould, dust mites, chemicals, EMFs and WiFi. When she’s not turning unhealthy rooms into healthier, relaxing and productive spaces, she’s most likely frightening her husband and their children with numerous “let’s see what this does when …” projects.

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