Long-term health fears over ‘cat­a­strophic’ smoke haze


AM­BU­LANCE crews were yes­ter­day forced to treat 162 cases of breath­ing prob­lems as Mel­bourne was blan­keted in a “cat­a­strophic” smoke haze, with a warn­ing there’s more to come.

Beaches were closed, tradies coughed up blood and tennis player Dalila Jakupovic had a mid-match cough­ing fit so bad she bowed out of the Aus­tralian Open qual­i­fiers.

The “haz­ardous” smoke made Mel­bourne’s air qual­ity the world’s worst. Child­care cen­tres kept young­sters in­doors and Aus­tralia Post made its posties wear masks as the bush­fire haze hung over the city and else­where across Vic­to­ria.

Ex­perts have warned the smoke could trig­ger un­di­ag­nosed asthma in Vic­to­ri­ans strug­gling to breathe.

MEL­BOURNE will choke on “haz­ardous” smoke for a sec­ond day to­day, af­ter yes­ter­day record­ing the worst air qual­ity of any city in the world.

Am­bu­lance Vic­to­ria crews re­sponded to 162 cases of “breath­ing prob­lems” be­tween mid­night and 4pm yes­ter­day — dou­ble the usual num­ber of call-outs for that.

Haz­ardous smoke from the bush­fires is fore­cast again to­day across Mel­bourne, Gipp­s­land and north cen­tral ar­eas of the state, with au­thor­i­ties warn­ing of the greater like­li­hood of cough­ing and short­ness of breath.

The north­east will wheeze through “very poor” air qual­ity and the north­ern coun­try “poor”, be­fore a change blow­ing across the state tonight be­gins to clear skies.

Child­care cen­tres are be­ing told to shel­ter kids in­doors dur­ing the smoke haze, with Vic­to­ri­ans also ad­vised to stay in­side, close win­dows and dump plans to ex­er­cise out­side.

Chief Health Of­fi­cer Brett Sut­ton said the cooler tem­per­a­tures overnight on Mon­day had forced “par­tic­u­late mat­ter” to set­tle low to the ground. “We will get respite over the com­ing days but it is prob­a­bly go­ing to be in the very poor to haz­ardous range un­til late in the week,” Dr Sut­ton said.

The state’s en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion watch­dog recorded huge spikes in pol­lu­tion early yes­ter­day morn­ing, which a res­pi­ra­tory dis­eases ex­pert la­belled “cat­a­strophic”.

Uni­ver­sity of Tech­nol­ogy Syd­ney As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor Brian Oliver found Mel­bourne CBD’s smoke par­ti­cle pol­lu­tion, called PM2.5, was equiv­a­lent to light­ing up 20 cig­a­rettes when it peaked at 412 yes­ter­day morn­ing. It was com­pa­ra­ble to 50 cig­a­rettes in Box Hill, where it topped 1000.

Dr Oliver said: “It is re­ally hard to pre­dict what the longterm health ef­fects are go­ing to be. We know it is go­ing to be bad, we just don’t know how bad.”

Heavy smoke was even forc­ing fire­fight­ers to be ro­tated away from the front lines.

Royal Mel­bourne Health res­pi­ra­tory medicine head Lou Irving warned those on the fire ground for more than 60 days could de­velop chronic bron­chi­tis.

The haze also ham­pered ef­forts to fly med­i­cal sup­plies from Sale to iso­lated and fir­erav­aged Mal­la­coota.


The smoke haze could be un­cov­er­ing un­di­ag­nosed asthma in Vic­to­ri­ans strug­gling to breathe. A third of the 4000 Vic­to­ri­ans who at­tended hos­pi­tals dur­ing 2016’s thun­der­storm asthma out­break were un­di­ag­nosed asth­mat­ics.

Siob­han Bro­phy of the Na­tional Asthma Coun­cil said asth­mat­ics may suf­fer cough­ing, wheez­ing, tight­ness in the chest and a feel­ing of breath­less­ness. She en­cour­aged them to fol­low their per­sonal asthma ac­tion plan, visit their doc­tor or seek ad­vice from a phar­ma­cist.

“Par­tic­u­larly over the hol­i­days, peo­ple can fall out of their rou­tines, and tak­ing your drugs ev­ery day can be one of those rou­tines,” she said.

“Make sure you are tak­ing your med­i­ca­tion daily if you have a pre­scribed pre­ven­ter.”


Slo­vakian Dalila Jakupovic bowed out of the Aus­tralian Open qual­i­fiers af­ter suf­fer­ing an on-court cough­ing fit, as Cana­dian Eu­ge­nie Bouchard said she felt “spikes in her lungs”.

Jakupovic sucked on her in­haler as she led Ste­fanie Voegele 6-4 5-6, be­fore re­tir­ing yes­ter­day. She later said she suf­fered chest pain dur­ing her warm-up and an “asthma at­tack” dur­ing play.


Life­guards sunk beach­go­ers’ plans to cool off amid vis­i­bil­ity fears yes­ter­day.

St Kilda Beach was among those closed, with life­guards turn­ing peo­ple away from the tempt­ing wa­ter as the tem­per­a­ture hit 29C.

Oth­ers beaches that were des­ig­nated off-lim­its in­cluded Frankston, Wil­liamstown, Al­tona, Cape Schanck, Gun­na­matta, Ocean Grove, Fairhaven, Torquay, An­gle­sea and Queen­scliff.

Life Sav­ing Vic­to­ria life­sav­ing op­er­a­tions man­ager Liam Krige said the beaches had been closed due to poor air qual­ity and vis­i­bil­ity.

“Beaches may closed for a num­ber of rea­sons but al­ways with the safety of the pub­lic in mind, and typ­i­cally the clo­sures are only tem­po­rary,” he said.

Mr Krige said beaches would re­open in com­ing days, de­pend­ing on con­di­tions.


Some tradies re­port­edly coughed up blood as con­struc­tion com­pa­nies faced calls for all out­door work to halt dur­ing the smoke haze.

The CFMEU urged em­ploy­ers yes­ter­day morn­ing to sus­pend the “dan­ger­ous and un­healthy” out­door work.

It said later in the day that while most sites closed down, work car­ried on in some lo­ca­tions, in­clud­ing on a South­bank project where a worker was taken away in an am­bu­lance.

Tradies were also said to be cough­ing up blood on an­other work­site.

Aus­tralia Post equipped its posties with P2 masks, and made wear­ing them manda­tory where air qual­ity was rated very poor or haz­ardous. It stopped short of sus­pend­ing de­liv­er­ies.


Mel­bourne’s City Baths were closed to the pub­lic, but gyms stayed opened.

Mel­bourne City Coun­cil con­firmed City Baths and Carl­ton Baths were shut, with a spokes­woman say­ing they would re­open “when the air qual­ity rat­ing im­proves and it is safe to do so”.


Child­care cen­tres across Mel­bourne kept chil­dren in­doors to shel­ter them from the smoke, with par­ents alerted to the move.


The Depart­ment of Trans­port urged mo­torists to be ex­tra vig­i­lant on the roads, par­tic­u­larly keep­ing an eye out for mo­tor­cy­clists, cy­clists and pedes­tri­ans who may be shrouded in the haze.

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