Governments must act on public health emergency from bushfire smoke, medical groups say
Published: 16 December 2019
Some 22 groups representing health and medical professionals in Australia have issued a joint call to act on a “public health emergency” caused by smoke from the catastrophic bushfire season in New South Wales.
In Sydney and others areas of NSW communities have been exposed to air pollution up to 11 times worse than “hazardous” levels.
The group has produced a joint statement calling for political leadership while repeating a call for a national strategy to combat the health impacts of climate change.
Dr Kate Charlesworth, a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, which signed the statement, said: “Climate-related health effects are having the most impact on our most vulnerable: babies, children, the elderly and people with pre-existing disease. There is no safe level of air pollution.”
“To protect health, we need to shift rapidly away from fossil fuels and towards cleaner, healthier and safer forms of energy.”
Among the 22 groups that signed the statement are the Australasian College of Emergency Medicine, Public Health Association of Australia, Australian College of Nursing, Australian Association of Social Workers and Lung Foundation Australia.
The statement says the federal and NSW governments must “prioritise action to help reduce the risks to people’s health arising from hazardous air pollution”.
Fiona Armstrong, executive of the Climate and Health Alliance, said: “This is a public health emergency.” She added: “Climate change is going to get much worse and we will see more and more of these events.”
Dr Lai Heng Foong, of Doctors for the Environment Australia, which has also signed the statement, said: “Pollution from bushfire smoke remains hazardous to people, in the short term and also the long-term.”
Many of the groups that have signed the statement are also pushing for Australia to respond to the health impacts of climate change.
Mark Brooke, CEO of Lung Foundation Australia CEO, said a national strategy was needed.
“Climate change and air quality significantly contribute to poor lung health, increased health and economic burden, disability and death,” he said.
“If we want to prevent the worst air pollution from bushfire smoke, one of the best things our governments can do, aside from fuel reduction burns, is to set stronger and better standards for everyday air quality.”
In August, the Australian Medical Association declared that climate change was a “health emergency”, citing “clear scientific evidence indicating severe impacts for our patients and communities now and into the future.”
The AMA called on the Morrison government to help Australia move away from fossil fuels, and to promote the health benefits of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.