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New air quality notification system

23 February 2012

Tasmanians will be better equipped to protect their health during high smoke seasons, following the launch of an early warning system.

In an online partnership between Tasmania’s public health experts and the Environment Protection Authority (EPA), precautionary health advice will now be activated on a dedicated website when smoke levels are elevated for just one hour.

The Deputy Director of Public Health, Dr Chrissie Pickin, said the new notification system is specifically targeted at Tasmanians who are at greater risk of harm from wood smoke.

“Wood smoke can worsen the symptoms of lung conditions, such as asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema - even after only short exposures to smoky conditions.

“Through local research we are seeing increasing evidence of its effects on heart disease as well. Infants and people over the age of 65 are also at increased risk.

“The purpose of the new air quality notifications is to help particularly susceptible groups know when to take precautions and protect their health,” Dr Pickin said.

The Director of the EPA, Alex Schaap, said air quality is monitored at 21 locations around Tasmania, with real-time data published online through the Base Line Air Network of EPA Tasmania (BLANkET) system.

“Tasmania has some of the cleanest air in the world. Yet we can have significant air quality problems, especially with smoke from wildfires, planned burning and domestic wood heating during clear nights in the cooler months,” he said.

Precautionary advice will be triggered after one hour of elevated PM2.5 levels of 25 µg/m3 – a much shorter timeframe than national 24-hour air quality standards.

Dr Pickin said further health advice will be issued through the mainstream media during longer smoke events – such as those that exceed national standards.

“During these major incidents, we will advise all residents in the affected areas to take precautions and limit their exposure to smoke.

“For most of us, smoke may irritate our eyes and make us cough, but these symptoms will go away shortly after the smoke dissipates.

“However, there are smaller particles in wood smoke that can be breathed deeply into our lungs, and even enter the bloodstream.

“This can trigger a worsening of symptoms in Tasmanians with asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema and heart disease. Anyone who experiences difficulty breathing should seek medical attention,” Dr Pickin said.

The wood smoke | air quality | your health website combines real-time air quality monitoring, precautionary advice, and health and air quality information. Go to: www.publichealthalerts.tas.gov.au

The initiative, which will be trialled over the next 12 months, was developed with the Asthma Foundation of Tasmania and University of Tasmania researchers.

For more information on BLANkET and other EPA air monitoring visit the EPA website