Many communities across Australia are experiencing hazardous air pollution levels for prolonged periods of time as smoke continues to be produced by the widespread bushfires. Smoke contains fine particulate matter – known as PM2.5 – which can cause health effects.
Exposure to air pollution over days or weeks increases the risk of illness. Evidence shows the risk of illness declines when air pollution levels fall, even after very long periods of exposure.
People with heart or lung conditions, children under 14, adults over 65, pregnant women and people with diabetes are at greater risk of experiencing health effects. Some people with pre-existing conditions may find that the smoke causes a worsening of their symptoms and it is important that these people follow their treatment plans and keep reliever medication close at hand.
People experiencing symptoms should speak to their doctor.
Reducing prolonged or strenuous physical exercise outdoors is an important way of minimising exposure, but may not be practical over extended periods. Smoke levels change from hour to hour and day to day. It is important to be aware of the conditions outside and monitor the air quality forecasts to determine the best times for outdoor exercise.
Exercising outdoors, including cycling or walking to school or work when smoke levels are low, if possible, will help to maintain good physical activity levels without substantially increasing exposure to smoke.
Staying indoors may also not be practical over prolonged periods and some homes, especially older ones, may more easily allow smoke in. In such circumstances, people may be able to take advantage of alternative well-sealed and air conditioned indoor locations to provide respite from smoke pollution (e.g. libraries, shopping centres, cinemas).
Homes should be ventilated during periods of better outdoor air quality to avoid build-up of indoor pollution. Avoiding sources of indoor air pollution like candles and cigarettes can also be helpful.
The Commonwealth will also commission additional research to further understand the long-term effects of prolonged exposure to bushfire smoke.
People can access the below links for information and regular updates on air quality for each state and territory.
- Australian Capital Territory Air Quality Index
- New South Wales Current and Forecast Air Quality
- Northern Territory Air Quality Network
- Queensland Air Quality Monitoring
- South Australia Air Quality Monitoring
- Tasmania Real Time Air Quality
- Victoria AirWatch
- Western Australia Air Quality Index