Study finds 417 smoke related deaths from Australia’s climate fuelled Bushfire season

June 4, 2020 at 10:52 pm Leave a comment

Bushfire smoke in Sydney, 18 December 2019

On January 1st 2020 Economics Professor John Quiggin estimated there would be hundreds, if not thousands, of deaths attributed to the deadly bushfire smoke that affected up to 80 per cent of Australia’s population, including in major capital cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, during the climate fuelled 2019-2020 bushfire season.

A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia in March 2020 estimated the excess health burden during 19 weeks continuous fire activity in the states most severely affected by bushfire smoke. It found that at least 417 deaths could be attriibuted to the bushfire smoke and the PM2.5 air pollution particulates, and over 4,000 hospitalisations.

Smoke related deaths dwarfs the 33 deaths that were a direct result of the worst bushfire season on record.

The 2019/2020 bushfire season was catastrophic – there was probably in the order of 35 million hectares of land that has been burnt.

Yet climate scientists had been warning of escalation in fire risk for 30 years. Australia was not adequately prepared, did not set in place long term greenhouse gas emissions reduction to reduce the threat. While fires were raging Prime Minister Scott Morrison took a holiday to Hawaii in December.

During the study period, PM2.5 concentrations exceeding the 95th percentile of historical daily mean values were recorded by at least one monitoring station in the study area on 125 of 133 days (Box 1). We estimated that bushfire smoke was responsible for 417 (95% CI, 153–680) excess deaths, 1124 (95% CI, 211–2047) hospitalisations for cardiovascular problems and 2027 (95% CI, 0–4252) for respiratory problems, and 1305 (95% CI, 705–1908) presentations to emergency departments with asthma (Box 2). Applying lower thresholds for defining bushfire smoke‐affected days (no threshold, 90th percentile of historical values) did not markedly alter our findings; a higher threshold (99th percentile) reduced the estimates by about 20%. The highest population‐weighted PM2.5 exposure level, 98.5 μg/m3 on 14 January 2020 (Box 1), exceeded the national air quality 24‐hour standard (25 μg/m3)19 and was more than fourteen times the historical population‐weighted mean 24‐hour PM2.5 value of 6.8 μg/m3.

Estimated health burden attributable to bushfire smoke. Source: Medical Journal of Australia

Population-weighted PM2.5 levels. Source: Medical Journal of Australia

So, now we have escalating heat related deaths and escalating bushfire associated deaths.

We need ambituos green house gas emissions reduction targets set, and plans in place to achieve these targets. Here is how the Federal Government fumbled the bushfire response by Anne Davies (2 June 2020): Australian bushfires: how the Morrison government failed to heed warnings of catastrophe

We have a climate emergency.


Entry filed under: health, news. Tags: , , , .

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