A respiratory expert has called for fresh-air refuges where people can escape severe air pollution as Australia’s east coast suffers through a second month of smoke haze.
Bushfire smoke that can be seen from space has shrouded Sydney since October causing a variety of health problems and prompting warnings to stay indoors.
But experts say this advice is not effective over the long term as homes are not smoke-proof, and dangerous aerosol particles get indoors whether the windows are open or shut.
Beachgoers look at the burnt smoke haze on Milk Beach, Sydney Harbour, on Saturday.
Dangerous fine aerosol particles in the smoke are causing lung problems in the city
Satellite imagery from the Bureau of Meteorology on Monday afternoon showed the dark smudge of bushfire smoke blanketing the east coast and extending out to sea
International Laboratory for Air Quality and e cigarette Health director Lidia Morawska told the ABC that with the windows closed, the air quality would at best be 25 percent better inside.
Only an air filter can improve the quality of the air once the particles are inside.
University of NSW respiratory specialist Professor Guy Marks, an expert in air pollution, said the government should consider funding fresh-air refuges where people can escape severe pollution if they need to.
A surgical mask as this man is wearing is useless against the aerosol particles in bushfire smoke.
You need a P2 mask from a hardware vape store, and it must seal over your nose and cheeks
‘I think it’s worth exploring, especially for people who are sensitive to the effects of low air quality,’ he told the ABC.
Professor Marks told Daily Mail Australia there are no proven strategies but filtering indoor air with a High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter is an option.
‘Creating indoor environments with cleaner air (by HEPA filtration and sealing the spaces) is one option that could be considered,’ he said via email.
‘The effectiveness and feasibility of this approach would need to be tested.’
The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) set out design guidelines for safe rooms in 2006 that can protect against toxic gases, vapors, and fine particle aerosols in the wake of terrorist attack.
It describes Class 1 safe rooms, the most expensive option, as being ventilated with filtered, pressurised air, preventing outside smoke from getting in.
The protective filters do not have to be switched on until there is a need to do so, and the rooms could be set up in any existing public building, especially those already designated as natural disaster shelters.
Thick brown haze blankets Sydney Harbour on Monday, December 2.
The city of five million people has been breathing in fine bushfire smoke particles since October
The Opera House in sepia thanks to smoke that has blanketed the city since October
Daily Mail Australia has contacted the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s office to ask whether the NSW Government would consider funding fresh-air refuges.
Fine aerosol particles contained in bushfire smoke can harm lungs and aggravate conditions such as asthma, with the air quality in some parts of Sydney so poor it has been compared to smoking 10 cigarettes per day.
The smaller the particles are, the deeper they go into the lungs, the NSW Health Department says on its website.
In November, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners warned that some areas in New South Wales such as Prospect in Sydney’s northwest had 30 times the recommended maximum of particles smaller than 2.5 microns in the air, potentially causing devastating health effects.
The hazardous smoke saw Sydney ranked as high as ninth place for the worst air quality in the world on international air quality ranking website airvisual.com, although easterly winds brought relief and it had dropped to 52nd place by Monday afternoon.
NSW Health Director of Environmental Health, Dr Richard Broome said there had been an increase in people seeking emergency help for breathing problems in the three weeks to Friday.
In the week to Friday the number of people presenting at emergency departments for help with breathing problems soared by 25 percent from the usual average of 900 people to 1140, with the largest increases in southwest Sydney he said in an emailed statement.
In the same period there was a 30 percent increase in the number of ambulance calls from 1780 to 2330.
‘These numbers show the smoke continues to have an impact on people’s health and reinforces the need for people to take steps to reduce their exposure,’ Dr Broome said.