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Pollution in Australia and Respiratory Diseases

Last year, it was documented that Sydney’s air pollution exceeded the national standards as reported by the NSW Environmental Protection Authority. These pollutants caused by vehicle fumes, various industrial/residential sources and bush fires & hazard reduction burning can contribute to respiratory diseases. With the spike in air pollution, those who suffer from lung diseases as well as asthmatics should be weary of being outdoors, especially exercising as the pollutants in the air could cause difficulty breathing and asthma attacks. Other variable can also be natural such as with changes in the environment, dust storms to name a few. The following looks into the various types of pollution found in Australia.

One of the foremost things to remember is that pollutants found in the air can be natural such as those caused by events such as bushfires, storms and pollen, as well as man-made such as with industrial emission, vehicular emission, dust from unpaved roads, wood fired heaters. They can product pollutants such as chemicals, gas, and various other airborne pollutants. It is said that windy days are the worst due to the ease these pollutants can spread across various geographical areas, especially during autumn and winter.

 However, in order to be more aware of the environment and the effect it has on the lungs and respiratory diseases, the below are forms of pollutions and pollutants that the population should be informed of.

Outdoor Air Pollution

  • Smog
  • Dust Storms
  • Smoke
  • Fuel Combustion can result in pollutants such as the following
    • Carbon monoxide (CO) compromises the blood in the oxygen
    • Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), Sulphur dioxide (SO2) and Ozone (O3) have the ability to trigger asthma attacks and respiratory diseases
    • Particulates (not including particles suspended in air) may have varying effects based on the chemical makeup
  • A range of rising gases such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and halons causes ozone depletion (compounds containing bromine). Health effects include eyesight problems (such as cataracts) and risk of skin cancer.
  • The Greenhouse Effect, which has greatly risen since the industrial revolution, is causing the Earth to get warmer and warmer by the combustion of fossil fumes that in turn has increases risk of health problems such as heat stress, mosquito-borne diseases, and respiratory diseases including asthma.

Indoor Air Pollution

  • Tobacco smoke/ Open fires
  • Wooden Stoves/Heaters without chimneys/flues (for air control/ventilation)
  • Faulty gas heaters or appliances (causes for carbon monoxide poisoning)
  • Chemical odours – paint, glues, solvents, cleaners
  • Animal fur/dander
  • Moulds
  • Dust

Hazardous Substances

  • Arsenic
  • Asbestos
  • Cadmium
  • Lead

To ensure that the population of Australia is notified when there is an increase in pollutants in the air, air pollution services alerts the community by issuing statements with the Bureau of Meteorology as it does with the NSW Health body in collaboration with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage. The Air Quality Index (AQI) will inform the community of the quality in terms of Poor or Hazardous. You are able to find the latest AQIs by visiting the official NSW Office of Environment and Heritage website.

References: Lung Foundation, Bureau of Meteorology, Better Health, The Sydney Morning Herald, Hillside Rural Fire Brigade