New tool to help beat the health hazards of smoke haze

Thick smoke haze hangs heavy over an empty skate park in Canberra. Photo: Lannon Harley/ANU

With major cities across Australia choking on thick clouds of hazardous smoke, an expert from The Australian National University (ANU) has released freely accessible new factsheets on how to best protect yourself from bushfire smoke.

The factsheets have been developed by leading air quality and health expert Professor Sotiris Vardoulakis from the ANU Research School of Population Health.

Thick smoke haze hangs heavy over an empty skate park in Canberra. Photo: Lannon Harley/ANU

Professor Vardoulakis said there is an urgent need for more comprehensive and balanced health protection advice as Australians deal with unprecedented levels of bushfire smoke.

“The existing public health advice on bushfire smoke is mainly tailored to brief air pollution episodes, typically lasting no longer than one or two days,” Professor Vardoulakis said. “But this is not normal, and we need to urgently do more. People need to be able to access the best information out there simply and quickly. In the current bushfire season, urban centres have been exposed to high levels of smoke over weeks and months. This new situation requires a rapid and well-targeted health protection response. The ANU factsheets provide the advice and practical tips urgently needed by people exposed to bushfire smoke in their daily lives for short and longer periods.”

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The information is designed to enable the public to make clear and informed decisions for dealing with our current and future hazy summers.

Professor Vardoulakis said he hoped the fact sheets will help people navigate the overwhelming cloud of information from health professionals, media and the public.

“These factsheets will clear a path for communities and people asking how they can plan daily life for the remainder of this unprecedented season and future summers,” he said. “They aim to provide evidence-based advice on the most practical and effective ways for protecting our health, as well as resources for further information and public health action. Understandably, bushfires and smoke have caused a lot of stress and anxiety in our communities, particularly among parents with young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with existing lung disease, heart disease or other chronic illness.”

The factsheets include information for those more vulnerable to the smoke, as well as for healthy individuals, and address topics such as being active, facemasks, mental health and medication plans.