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Via Kris Olds and Croakey.org this story is from Gemma Carey who lives in Canberra Australia and is an associate professor in the Centre for Social Impact at the University of South Wales.

Professor Carey writes that the smoke enveloping Canberra has shown the need “for better health warning systems, especially around hazardous air pollution, and for equity considerations to be foremost.”  

In her city “the unprecedented fires which began on New Year’s eve brought a thick ‘fog’ of smoke across the ACT (Australia Capital Territory) and parts of New South Wales. Canberra, where I live, is perhaps worst hit with particle readings of up to 1800 2.5PM. The limit for hazardous levels is 200 2.5PM in the ACT, according to the ACT Government.”

Professor  Carey wrote in December that women being  pregnant in a climate emergency meant they are stuck indoors. “At that time, dangerous particles of 2.5 micrometres or smaller (‘2.5PM’) were at 100-300 – ranging from serious to hazardous.”

The air in Canberra is ten times over the hazardous level and is the poorest air quality of any city in the world. Air with this type of particulate creates complications for people with lung and breathing issues, and can impact heart disease and cancer rates. Research shows that the longer the exposure to these particulates, the higher the incidence of disease. Couple this with research showing that pregnant women exposed to these particulates appear to have babies that are premature, weigh less, and can be miscarried.  What is not being calculated is that families in Canberra are also experiencing direct stress due to the fire disasters as well as the long term implications of particulate exposure.

Poorer areas in the city have worse air. Professor  Carey states “We have no precedent in the scientific literature for the health implications of what is currently happening in Australia.”

Clean air is costly~“Since New Year’s, nowhere indoors is safe. Shopping malls, libraries and national monuments – where many were seeking refuge – are filled with smoke. Air conditioning systems are simply not designed for this level of pollution.”

Even air purifiers which cost 500 to 800 dollars are not affordable to many people and there are none left in Canberra or its suburbs. Indoors people wear high grade pollution masks. “I take it off only to shower and eat.”

The  air particulate mask is only good for 100 hours and costs 50 dollars. Again as in the air purifiers, there is an equity issue of who can afford and access them. The masks  available at hardware stores are not designed for the particulates that are raining down on Canberra.

While fires are expected to be more frequent, there has been little information from government sources on warnings and air quality. With poor education on the impacts of the particulate, “few people could be seen with masks on the streets of Canberra and many were out exercising, and drawing toxic particulates deep into their lungs, and passing through into their blood streams.”

Professor Carey observes: We will be counting the public health implications of current events for years, if not decades, to come.Without immediate action on climate change, living in facemasks trapped in our houses could become the new normal for Australian summers.”

And now there is a change in public expression of the climate emergency~ Australian doctors are finally publicly saying that people will die from the health impacts as reported in the Guardian.

You can follow Gemma Carey on Twitter at  @gemcarey

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Comments

  1. During the worst period of wildfire smoke blanketing Vancouver in late August 2018, I endeavoured to distribute 40 disposable N95 respirator masks (donated by Windsor Plywood, a Fairview hardware store).

    I offered the masks to any adult I met who appeared to be at risk from the poor air quality—those with low incomes and a high likelihood of respiratory difficulties; who could not avoid being outside—such as homeless people, street-embedded binners and senior citizens.

    However, my free offer of protection from the worst of the air pollution turned out to be a very tough sell among my target audience. Even people who were coughing and wheezing declined the masks.

    Some did not trust the masks. Some did not believe they needed them and many who gave them a try found the masks hot and uncomfortable and quickly gave up using them.

    In short, my ad hoc effort to help, though well-intentioned, was ineffective.

    But severe wildfire seasons appear to be the new normal all over the world. Cities need to be working now to devise effective assistive solutions to help the various populations at risk from the cumulative harm of breathing fine particulate matter of thick wood smoke.

  2. This recent video will complement the above post and link. It clearly indicates that there is political risk now in being a climate denier, and for dismissing the concerns by those who are directly affected — which is virtually every Australian citizen and visitor today.

    The language is rough, but can you blame the people or the firefighters? Recently posted in the comments of the January 4th post, ‘How Passive the Suicide.’

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