People left vulnerable during bushfires, as air quality levels were not accurate

RED HAZE: Bushfire smoke in Canberra in January.
RED HAZE: Bushfire smoke in Canberra in January.

The failings of systems used to record the dangerous level of bushfire smoke in the air this summer will be examined as part of the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements.

An issues paper released by the Royal Commission on Friday confirmed the issue of bushfire smoke would form part of investigations.

"As the bushfire smoke that blanketed large parts of Australia in early 2020 may demonstrate, the effect of natural disasters can be widespread," the issues paper stated.

"The commission has received a substantial number of submissions from members of the community, health organisations and charities, in relation to the impacts of bushfire smoke on Australians.

"Many in the community were concerned with the impact of prolonged exposure to bushfire smoke on their health and the health of their families."

IN OTHER NEWS:

Canberra's air quality was among the worst of major cities in the world at the height of the bushfire crisis.

The highest index ratings were recorded on New Year's Day, all in Monash, where it peaked at 5185 - more than 25 times above hazardous levels.

An air quality index above 200 is considered to be hazardous.

SMOKE HAZE: Wodonga blanketed by hazardous levels of bushfire smoke in early January, with vulnerable people warned to stay indoors.

SMOKE HAZE: Wodonga blanketed by hazardous levels of bushfire smoke in early January, with vulnerable people warned to stay indoors.

On January 4, in the midst of extreme heat and bushfire danger, Albury's air quality index reading went missing in action.

The readings had been at "hazardous" levels of over 200 since late-December, with vulnerable residents warned to stay indoors.

By Christmas Eve, the level of PM10 particles, which can be found in dust and smoke, had reached 371.

Further into January, Wangaratta was at one stage the third worst city in the world for air quality, with levels closer to the 1000 mark.

Commissioners have asked anyone who wants to provide a submission on this topic to do so while they continue investigations.

They received evidence the air quality readings "were not designed to provide the public with real-time information or to help people manage bushfire smoke exposure".

"This means that an index may not reflect current air quality and may leave the public vulnerable to a sudden deterioration in air quality," the issues paper stated.

Associate Professor Fay Johnston from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research told hearings this week that modelling suggested there were 445 deaths directly attributable to smoke from the fires in Australia and 3340 admissions to hospital for heart and lung-related problems.

Friday's hearing was called off at the last minute, with evidence to restart on Tuesday.

This story People left vulnerable, as air quality levels were not accurate first appeared on The Canberra Times.