Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) is warning Victorians that smoky conditions are a threat to people’s health, even far away from the bushfires that create the smoke.
EPA Chief Environmental Scientist, Andrea Hinwood, says smoke is especially dangerous to vulnerable groups in the community, but there are measures you can take to protect your health.
“Any smoke can be hazardous, but summer bushfires produce large amounts of it, and it’s not uncommon for it to affect communities a hundred or more kilometres away,” Dr Hinwood said.
“Smoky conditions are particularly hazardous to people with asthma and other lung conditions, those with heart conditions, smokers, children under 14, adults over 65 and pregnant women,” she said.
“The emergency services, including EPA and the Department of Health and Human Services, issue warnings whenever smoke is a threat to people’s health, and it’s important that you take action to protect yourself and your family,” Dr Hinwood said.
EPA’s website offers advice on protecting your health in smoky conditions, as well as links to the State Government sites that provide official emergency warnings. You can find EPA’s Smoke page at www.epa.vic.gov.au/your-environment/air/smoke
EPA says signs of short term smoke irritation such as itchy eyes, sore throat, runny nose and coughing usually clear up in healthy adults once you’re away from the smoke.
People with pre-existing conditions, including asthmatics, should take their medication, follow their treatment plan and seek immediate medical advice if symptoms such as breathing issues, wheezing or tightness in the chest persist.
“You could also look out for elderly neighbours and relatives, those with disabilities or mobility issues, too,” Dr Hinwood said.
When smoky conditions set in, even healthy adults are advised to limit prolonged or heavy physical activity outdoors, stay inside if possible, switch air-conditioners to recirculate or reuse air, or take a break in a building where the air conditioning filters the air, such as most shopping centres or large public buildings, if it is safe to do so, particularly where you notice smoke in your home.
If you are experiencing any symptoms that may be due to smoke exposure, seek medical advice or call NURSE-ON-CALL on 1300 60 60 24. Anyone experiencing wheezing, chest tightness and difficulty breathing should call 000.
Sometimes, there may be smoke from planned burns conducted by DELWP to reduce bushfire risk by reducing fuel loads. The burns are supervised by firefighters and conducted when conditions are appropriate. For information on planned burns in your area, call the VicEmergency Hotline: 1800 226 226
“Smoke has the potential to be hazardous to health, but fortunately the measures you need to take are fairly simple,” Dr Hinwood said.
“The important thing is to remain aware of the conditions and take action if you or your family are exposed to smoky conditions,” she said.
As Chief Environmental Scientist, Dr Hinwood heads EPA’s environmental public health unit, playing a key role in the response to emerging and critical issues, and providing the community with health advice and information during emergencies. The unit was established to enhance the environmental public health service to Victorians, following the Hazelwood fire inquiry and the State Government’s inquiry into EPA.