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Australians need a 'slip slop slap'-style campaign to learn about air pollution | Australia news

Unprecedented bushfires have sparked health concerns for Australia’s most vulnerable populations, but proper education and adequate policies may help the public to cope better, according to the Public Health Association of Australia.

People such as children under the age of 14, those over the age of 65, pregnant women and individuals with pre-existing respiratory issues are at the highest risk during periods of poor air quality.

“It seems that we’ve reached a point where we have to navigate air quality like we’ve never been forced to before, and I liken it to the days when we realised the level of UV rays from the sun contribute to skin cancer,” said Terry Slevin, the CEO of PHAA.

Public Health Association Australia

Australians are having to become air-quality smart. Like learning about UV, the sun and its effect on skin cancer, we’ll need to adapt to the new world where clear unpolluted air can’t be taken for granted. Our media release just out #bushfiresAustralia https://t.co/z714ATodAp

January 14, 2020

“We know people with respiratory issues and heart diseases are more susceptible to smoke so we need to learn better strategies, we need to get better information and we need to understand what that information is about.”

This comes after Melbourne recorded the worst air quality in the world on Tuesday, with Canberra and Sydney also suffering hazardous levels of air quality throughout the summer.

In New South Wales, the south-west slopes recorded hazardous levels of air pollution reaching 1,099 AQI for PM2.5 pollutants in Albury as out-of-control fires continued to burn in the Snowy Monaro region.

On Wednesday, the federal government announced $5m worth of grants to fund research into the physical and mental health impacts of smoke exposure. The Australian Medical Association president, Dr Tony Bartone, said the lack of research into smoke exposure made public education challenging.

“We need to rapidly translate the research findings into everyday medical practice,” Bartone said and encouraged more funding so research would be completed ahead of any future emergencies.

The federal government has distributed 450,000 P2 masks to the Victorian government, but the Climate and Health Alliance has called on the government to also consider issuing text message alerts.

Slevin said while there are “certainly catastrophic circumstances” that have caused public panic and anxiety, he thinks “we need a more balanced, a more nuanced and calm approach to all the fires”.

“People need to have accurate and useful tools in order to respond to their circumstances and the government can create those tools and provide advice.”

Apps like AirRater, designed by the PHAA, which provides free “near real-time” air quality information for people sensitive to air pollution have seen a five-fold increase in downloads since December.

“Further research is needed so that health authorities can give solid advice in future fire seasons, beyond the generic advice we have now about the imperfect role of masks and filters together with avoiding exercise,” the PHAA said in a statement on Wednesday.

Slevin has also called on all levels of government to actively address air pollution on a policy level, and has advised they look to foreign cities such as Beijing that have already developed extensive systems to deal with hazardous air pollution by issuing alerts, closing certain industries and constricting traffic.

“The long-term policy settings also have to change, embracing more ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets as the most effective way to improve air quality.

“Global warming exacerbates fire conditions by contributing to prolonged droughts and high temperatures. It also raises questions about fire management and hazard reduction in the future.”

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