How to manage bushfire smoke haze health risks

ABC Health & Wellbeing

You can be quite a long way from a bushfire and still have it affect your health.

Bushfire smoke is a mixture of water vapour, small particles and gases, which may include carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

These gases travel long distances and are known to irritate the respiratory system, but evidence suggests it’s the particles that are most damaging to people’s health, according to NSW Health.

The smaller and finer the particles, the more damaging they can be because they’re able to travel deeper into the lungs, Dr Dennekamp said, with particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres likely to cause the most significant concern.

Symptoms caused by these particles can continue for days after they are inhaled.

Who is at risk?

Those most likely to be affected by bushfire smoke include:

  • People with existing heart or lung conditions, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic bronchitis
  • Pregnant women
  • Older people
  • Young children

Environmental health expert Fay Johnston from the University of Tasmania said it was important for all of these people, especially those with heart and lung conditions, to monitor their symptoms when exposed to smoke and for some days after.

How does smoke affect you?

Those in high-risk groups are going to feel any effects of bushfire smoke more than the general population.

“If you can see it or smell it then that means there is a significant amount in the air and people in high risk groups would be advised to try and minimise their exposure,” Dr Johnson said.

For instance, people with asthma may experience wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing while the smoke is around and for some days after.

Healthy people tend to tolerate being exposed to this type of pollution, although it can cause itchy or burning eyes, throat irritation, runny nose and some coughing. But these symptoms usually pass once the person is no longer exposed to the smoke.

What can you do to reduce your chances of being affected?

For those in areas affected by bushfire smoke, but not under direct threat from the fires, experts recommended the following precautions to reduce the health effects.

Stay indoors

The best way to avoid breathing in bushfire smoke is stay inside with the windows and doors closed, preferably in an air-conditioned building.

Particle levels are likely to be higher outdoors than indoors, so people sensitive to fine particles should limit the time they spend outside.

Keep an eye on your local air quality by checking your local environment monitoring agency’s website for advice.

Set air conditioning on recycle

Avoid bringing smoky air into your house. If you have the option of adding a filter to your air conditioner, do so.

But take advantage of periods of clean air to ventilate your home, as smoke still penetrates indoors and can take time to disperse unless the house is opened up.

Consider a portable air filter

Portable air cleaners, available from home electrical stores, will lower the concentration of indoor particles and reduce the risk of health impacts from smoke. They will work best in a well-sealed room.

Dr Johnson recommended air cleaners with a HEPA filter to provide protection from particles.

“Devices that only humidify, generate negative ions, or absorb unpleasant smells do not reduce airborne particles,” she said.

Avoid physical activity outside

Dr Johnston said it was a good idea to avoid exercising outside when you can see smoke in the air.

“If you run or do physical activity you breathe in a lot more because you need to get a lot more oxygen in, so your ventilation increases 10-fold and that means you are increasing your pollution exposure 10-fold.”

Keep medication on hand and follow a treatment plan

People with asthma — and other health conditions — need to make sure they have any medication they need on hand at all times.

The Victorian health department recommends having five days of medication on hand. Those an asthma action plan or other treatment plan should continue to follow it.

If your symptoms get worse, seek medical advice.

Wear a mask

NSW Health Department says wearing a P1 or P2 mask (available at hardware stores) properly fitted over your mouth and nose will filter fine particles and minimise the effects of bushfire smoke.

But Dr Johnson said these masks weren’t a failsafe.

“They give some protection against smoke particles but are only effective if worn correctly with a good seal around the mouth and nose; they can make it harder to breathe and they do not filter out gases,” she explained.

“Simple paper or cloth masks do not provide protection.”

Leave the area

If the smoke continues for some weeks, or if a person’s health means they’re at higher risk because of smoke exposure, consider staying with friends or relatives outside the smoke-affected area.

Bushfire smoke could cause lung problems for generations

US monkey study

By North America correspondent Kathryn Diss and John Mees in Davis, California

 “Monkeys in Northern California are providing valuable clues to the health cost of exposure to bushfire smoke, revealing it could have potentially life-threatening consequences for humans.”

PHOTO: The study has concluded that monkeys exposed to bushfire smoke at infancy showed reductions in lung volume.


Experimental Photos on a dark Sunday Winter Morning June 2014

On that winter morning in June 2014 I wrote that the sun did not come out at all.
Now in January 2020 in the midst of the Australian summer I am reminded that we have recently had hardly any sun. Always a hazy sky, sometimes a little bit of rain, sometimes smoke from some bushfires that are surrounding us from a long distance away. Yes, blue sky with a bit of sunshine is very rare these days!



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I have my laptop in a very small easy to heat room. I love this small space on a cold winter morning. It feels so snugly warm. Still I have diverse layers of clothes on. I am out to keep as warm as possible. I do not want to catch a cold. With temperatures like we have right now I cannot be too careful! The forecast for today is: Cloudy, windy, max. temperature 16 C.  This means no sun! Doesn’t sound very good, not good at all. If it gets very windy, I better stay indoors. I do not like cold wind!

Peter is watching a football game in the living room: England versus Italy. I took my coffee to this computer room to occupy myself with taking pictures rather than watching another football game so soon after yesterday’s game: Chile versus Australia. I liked the way the Australians played…

View original post 183 more words

What can I do for the Environment?

Using less power, eating less meat, avoid flying, reduce water consumption: If I keep this in mind, am I then on the way to become a good world citizen?

Well, using electricity only when needed, for instance turning off lights in rooms that are not being used, turning off cooling or heating in rooms that are not being used, surviving in room temperature of 28C when the outside temperature is more than 33C, try to use as little water as possible when it has not rained sufficently, using the car only when absolutely necessary. Some of this is not always easily achieved but I try to keep it more and more in mind. The only thing I have no difficulty with is, that is eating very little meat. I have never liked to eat a lot of meat!

Another issue is flying. Since 1977 I have been flying overseas more than half a dozentimes. I tell myself,  I should in future not fly anymore at all. But can I really stick to it? If Australia would be in the midst of WW3 right now, I am sure I would not be able to fly anywhere.  At the moment we behave in Australia as though we are far away from having actual war conditions. We should really restrict ourselves as though absolute war conditions did apply. Itseems to me most people do not think this way, not yet anyway. Most people seem to want to ignore that there is a worrying increase in climate change, at least they want to ignore this in their personal lives.

Using less power, eating less meat, avoid flying, reduce water consumption

Professor Palutikof says, people have to be prepared ‘for the changes that they are going to have to make’, meaning for instance using less power, eating less meat, avoid flying, reduce water consumption.

ABC News Breakfast By Madeleine Morris:

“We would need 3.4 Earths if everyone had my lifestyle. . . .”

“I always thought I was environmentally responsible. But when I calculated my family’s carbon emissions I was shocked by the result,” writes Madeleine Morris.

In this article by Madeleine Morris it says that the average Australian footprint is 15.37 tonnes of CO2 and vastly above the EU average of 6.4 tonnes.

It also says that Jean Palutikof from the Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility says about the impacts of climate change that we need to do to reduce them while we still can.

“People are going to have to change their way of life,” she said.

“There is this rhetoric about the Government taking action, but actually what that means is that people will themselves have to take action.”

Madeleine Morris is News Breakfast’s finance presenter. Previously she was a Melbourne-based reporter for 7.30, and worked for the BBC in London for 11 years as an international reporter and presenter.
Madeleine Morris says: “I calculated my carbon footprint and now my family will try to cut our emissions by 7.6 per cent”

Climate researcher says Australians need to take personal action


The director of the Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility says Australians are going to have to change their way of life if the country is to take greater measures to reduce emissions and act on climate change.

Source: ABC News | Duration: 1min 28sec