Australia — Bushfires worsening in south-eastern Australia due to climate change will cause more deaths and illness through air pollution, a CSIRO study has shown.
Mick Myers and a team from the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research examined air quality data from monitoring stations in Melbourne during the 2006 bushfires and found a big jump in air pollution. On several days it was “going through the roof”, Dr Myers told the Herald at the Greenhouse 2009 conference.
“In Melbourne you are probably taking about 20-30 additional deaths because of that pollution,” he said. “It’s actually becoming a sizeable source of pollution for the urban community”.
CSIRO research has already predicted that south-eastern Australia is likely to experience a rise in the frequency of very high and extreme fire danger days because of climate change. Dr Myers’s research shows the higher threat is likely to have increased health implications.
His study examined the fires in Victoria from December 2006 to February 2007. For several days, a thick smoke haze hung over Melbourne and pollution concentrations at several monitoring sites peaked at four times the National Environment Protection acceptable daily standard.
Sampling showed high concentrations of carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and elevated levels of ozone. Most worrying, Dr Myers said, was that the particles were very small and could penetrate quite deeply into the lungs.
The air quality standard is 50 micrograms of small particles per cubic metre. On one day, Dr Myers said, 24-hour concentrations exceeded 400. In the fire zone, the concentrations reached 1000 or 1500 micrograms per cubic metre.