Bushfires a health hazard for the sick

AIR quality on the Border deteriorated rapidly yesterday as smoke from bushfires thickened across the region.

Health authorities warned people with chronic respiratory conditions to stay indoors, at least until today.

Smoke levels exceeded national standards from first light.

Murrumbidgee Local Health District said that by daylight, Albury had — under a term known as PM10 — a reading of 58, above the national maximum air quality recommendation of 50.

PM10 relates to particles smaller than 10 micrometres in size that might worsen allergic reactions or asthma attacks.

The NSW Environment Department’s air quality index rates this as a “poor” result and twice the normal reading.

The reading increased to 73 by the time the index reading for 9am was released.

An hour later, the reading had entered “very poor” territory with a reading of 78.9.

By noon, the reading was 83.6, then 87.2 by 1pm and 90.3 by 3pm.

Smoke also blanketed Wagga — it had a peak reading of 80 at 11am.

Health district director of public health Tracey Oakman said the affect of bushfire smoke ranged from irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract to serious aggravation of lung conditions, such as asthma and emphysema.

Mrs Oakman said higher readings had been recorded in past summers, but that did not lessen the need for people to take appropriate precautions.

“If you look at the hills and you can see a kilometre or 500 metres, you will know that over the years sometimes the visibility has been worse,” she said.

The Border has recorded “hazardous” air quality index readings of more than 200 during some autumn burn-offs.

Mrs Oakman said not everyone exposed to the smoke would have health problems.

“It affects healthy people, but they get over it really quickly,” she said.

“People with underlying illnesses can exacerbate their condition and might not be in a good way.”

Mrs Oakman warned smoke pollution could affect people with lung disease for many days after smoke was inhaled.

“It is therefore important people with respiratory conditions closely monitor their symptoms and take appropriate action,” she said.

“Asthma sufferers and people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease should follow their action plans.

“If symptoms get worse, sufferers need to seek medical advice.”

Mrs Oakman said people who needed to go outdoors could take simple steps such as turning off outside ventilation in their car.

At home, they needed to shut windows and turn off evaporative cooling.

“It’s difficult, I know, with the heat because people do like to keep their windows open a bit,” she said.

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