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Smoke pollution from bushfires needs national response in Australia

Christian Fernsby |
A coalition of health experts have called on the Australian government to urgently establish an air pollution authority in response to the bushfire crisis.

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In a paper published by the Medical Journal of Australia on Monday, researchers from leading Australian universities warned that the government can't wait for the findings of the Bushfire Royal Commission to act on the issue of air pollution.

Much of Australia's east coast was blanketed by smoke from fires that devastated the country. Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra all experienced the worst air quality in the world at different times amid the crisis.

Sotiris Vardoulakis, the lead author of the paper from Australian National University (ANU), said in a media release that the current health protection advice relating to bushfire smoke is "impractical."

"Telling people to stay indoors or reduce physical activities outdoors isn't sufficient. Smoke pollution levels vary over hours and days and can change quickly. For this reason, we need hourly averaged particulate air pollution PM2.5 data reported in real time," he said in a media release.

"More nuanced advice would encourage individuals to be guided by location specific air quality forecasts and the pattern of hourly PM2.5 concentrations at nearby air quality monitoring locations.

"It would also mean people could better plan their daily activities in ways that minimize exposure to pollution."

The paper highlighted inconsistencies in the current approach measuring air quality and called for a uniform national approach.

The proposed independent national expert committee would be charged with measuring air quality and communicating that information to the public while also coordinating research into the impact of air pollution on health.

"Public access to local, user friendly air quality information and reliable smoke forecasts is essential for managing personal exposure as well as clinical deterioration in sensitive individuals," the paper said.

"More government investment is needed in air quality monitoring, forecasting and research on public health messaging, and exposure reduction measures to protect Australians from bushfire smoke."

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