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.
CONSTRUCTION AND WORKERS
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.
POOLS AND GYMS
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.