A four-year study has linked the public health of Territorians to the management of bushfires.
Dr Fay Johnston, a cardiovascular and respiratory research fellow with Charles Darwin University’s Menzies Research Institute, has just completed one of the most comprehensive studies of adverse health effects of bushfire smoke.
The findings, contained in her PhD which was awarded by CDU as a part of its end-of-year graduation ceremony, found that even relatively low levels of bushfire smoke were associated with an increase in incidents of asthma and hospital admissions for respiratory conditions.
“While there is increasing scientific consensus about the adverse health effects of outdoor air pollution, the public health impacts of pollution from bushfires is less certain,” Dr Johnston said.
“Without the traffic and the smokestacks, you might expect the Northern Territory to have clean fresh air, but in the Dry season the smoke from bushfires can sometimes make Darwin more polluted than other capital cities.”
Dr Johnston’s study compared daily fluctuations in air pollution from bushfires with daily symptoms, medication use and health care attendances in 251 people with asthma, daily emergency hospital admissions and daily emergency department attendances.
“There is a very strong and significant correlation between the number of people presenting with asthma, and the levels of tiny particulates given off by smoke in the atmosphere that was measured each day, and on days that were particularly hazy, presentations to the hospital for asthma more than doubled the baseline rate,” she said.
Dr Johnston pointed to those in charge of deliberate bushfire burning as the key players in managing the associated health risks.