Australia — The Top End’s fire season made Darwin more polluted than Sydney and sparked a rise in asthma attacks, a four-year study has found.
The Charles Darwin University study found air pollution from bush fires was sometimes worse than the fumes from Sydney’s smokestacks and millions of cars.
And particularly hazy days more than doubled the amount of people seeking hospital treatment for asthma.
The study’s author, university cardiovascular and respiratory research fellow Dr Fay Johnston, said Darwin’s air quality during the Dry on average matched Sydney’s – but “every so often it’ll be worse”.
She said Darwin sometimes even breached national air quality standards.
“Fifty micrograms per cubic metre averaged in 24 hours is the standard – anything above that is in breach,” Dr Johnston said.
“In any one year we can have five to 10 days that will breach it.”
She said the highest Darwin had recorded was 70 micrograms – but that this was still not as high as levels found in some European and American cities.
Her study found even relatively low levels of bushfire smoke were linked to an increase in asthma attacks and hospital admissions for respiratory conditions.
“Smoke affects the heart and the lungs – the greater the level of smoke, the greater it can affect you,” Dr Johnston said.
“Fit young people are usually fine but vulnerable people will start getting affected – those with respiratory diseases get worse.”
The study also tracked the symptoms and medication use in 251 asthma sufferers.
She said bodies overseeing deliberate bushfire burning played a balancing act in spreading out burn-offs to avoid exceeding standards as well as ensuring fuel did not build up, resulting in massive fires.
Dr Johnston said asthmatics should make sure they have an asthma action plan.
“People with other lung and heart conditions – if they know it’s hazy – the best protection is to find somewhere that’s air conditioned.”