Bushfire Smoke Haze Blankets Melbourne
Bushfire Smoke Haze Blankets Melbourne

Deadly cost of summer bushfire smoke

Hundreds of Australian deaths have been linked to smoke inhalation from last summer's bushfires, a royal commission into the natural disasters has heard.

It comes after thick smoke haze blanketed parts of Victoria in January as fires raged in East Gippsland and in the state's north east.

Wind changes also brought the smoke to Melbourne and air quality in the city and suburbs dropped to hazardous levels.

Speaking at the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements on Tuesday morning, health experts warned of the impact of the massive fires still being felt in communities.

Menzies Institute for Medical Research Associate Professor Fay Johnston said research by the institute had linked 445 deaths in the country to smoke from the bushfire season.

 

Smoke from bushfires covers the Melbourne CBD on January 15, 2020. Picture: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images
Smoke from bushfires covers the Melbourne CBD on January 15, 2020. Picture: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

 

She said researchers had charted the relationship between hospital data and PM2.5 particle levels that had soared over populated areas.

"Although death is a really rare outcome from smoke if you've got a lot of smoke and a lot of people it becomes measurable," she said.

"The vast majority of the impacts were in the eastern states.

"(There were) 3340 hospital admissions for heart and lung-related problems and 1373 additional presentations to an emergency department for asthma."

 

Bushfire smoke blankets Melbourne. Picture: David Caird
Bushfire smoke blankets Melbourne. Picture: David Caird

 

Associate Professor Johnston said their data did not include modelling for other impacts such as loss of work and ambulance call-outs.

"We were able to work out a yearly cost of bushfire smoke for each summer season," she said.

"Our estimates for the last summer season were $2 billion in health costs for premature loss of life and admissions to hospital.

"That was a major departure from anything we'd seen in the previous 20 years."

Mallacoota P-12 College Principal said the bushfires which had isolated the town had created difficulties for children living in the area, with COVID-19 adding to pressure in the community.

"For Mallacoota it has been a double whammy," he said.

kieran.rooney@news.com.au

Originally published as Deadly cost of summer bushfire smoke


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