Emergencies and extreme weather
See these fact sheets on how to avoid heat-related stress.
For more information, call the Health Protection Service on (02) 6205 1700.
To protect public health and the environment, the National Environment Protection Measure (NEPM) recommends the measurement of six criteria pollutants to give an indication of ambient air quality.
These six pollutants (ozone, nitrogen dioxide, particulates, sulfur dioxide, lead, and carbon monoxide) have the potential to affect human health as well as the environment.
Air quality in ACT is monitored routinely at several sites across Canberra for these pollutants as well as visual distance (which is a surrogate for very small particles). Sulfur dioxide is not measured routinely in Canberra because there is no heavy industry and sulfur containing fuel such as coal is not routinely burnt.
If air quality in Canberra is considered a hazard, eg to asthma sufferers, a health warning will be issued. The warning will remind asthmatics to continue their medication and consult their general practitioner if they have any difficulties. Vigorous exercise should be avoided and if possible individuals should stay inside during the hazard period.
If the measured pollutants indicate a health hazard in the future, a health warning will be issued as a media release.
Contact the Health Protection Service on (02) 6205 1700 for further information.
What is bushfire smoke?
Smoke from bushfires (and hazard reduction burns) is made up of small particles, gases and water vapour. The small particles are not visible to the human eye. The gases in bushfire smoke may include carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds.
Bushfire smoke exposure and health effects
Fine smoke particles affect the human breathing system. The smaller or finer the particles, the deeper they can go into the lungs when inhaled.
If present in high enough concentrations, these particles and gases can cause a variety of health problems, such as itchy or burning eyes, throat irritation, runny nose and illnesses such as bronchitis. Smoke particles can also aggravate existing lung conditions, such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, asthma as well as some cardiac conditions. Symptoms can occur for several days after exposure, so people with the above conditions need to be vigilant with their treatment programs.
If you have asthma or a lung condition and you develop symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing, follow your personal Asthma or COPD Plan.
Healthy adults generally find that any symptoms they have developed during exposure to bushfire smoke resolve after the smoke disappears.
How will I know if bushfire smoke concentrations are dangerous?
Usually bushfire smoke can be seen as a visible haze and can be detected by its distinctive smell. As a general rule the more visible the smoke haze is, and the stronger the odour, the more likely it is that the smoke contains concentrations of gases and particles that are hazardous to health.
Whilst a visible haze will indicate the presence of bushfire smoke, the concentration of hazardous particles and gases will be dependent on a number of factors including: the size of the bushfire and the amount of smoke produced; the distance the smoke has travelled from the source of the bushfire; and the prevailing weather conditions.
Air quality in the ACT is monitored routinely at several sites across Canberra for pollutants. If monitoring determines that air quality in Canberra is a hazard, a health warning will be issued as a media release. For more information on air quality go to ACT Air Quality Monitoring.
The following precautions can help you to minimise adverse effects from exposure to bushfire smoke:
- Stay indoors, with windows and doors closed, or
- If possible, stay in air-conditioned premises, switch your air-conditioner to ‘recycle’ or ‘recirculate’ to reduce the amount smoke coming inside your building.
- Avoid vigorous exercise, especially if you have asthma or other chronic respiratory and/or chronic cardiac diseases.
- It is especially important for people with asthma to continue their medication and consult their general practitioner if they have any difficulties.
If you must be outdoors when bushfire smoke is present consider using a mask designed to filter fine particles. Use a mask rated either P1 or P2. These types of masks are available from hardware retailers. P2 masks are more effective in blocking the finest particles, however all masks have to be worn in accordance with the manufactures instructions in order to provide adequate protection.
If you are particularly susceptible to bushfire smoke, and if safe to do so during a bushfire event, consider:
- Staying with a friend or relative whose house has clean indoor air; or
- Leaving the area for a cleaner environment.
If you or anyone in your family is experiencing symptoms that may be due to bushfire smoke exposure, seek medical advice from your local doctor. Anyone experiencing difficulty breathing or chest pain should seek urgent medical assistance. For more information visit the ACT Health website.
Flooding in the ACT is caused by rivers overflowing their banks or by localised rainfall at a rate that exceeds the local drains capacity, flash flooding.
In most cases, people will want to return to their homes as soon as possible after the flood waters have receded. While this should be encouraged, residents should only return once basic needs are available and the site is cleared of any hazards and declared safe by the relevant government agency.
Treated timber is commonly used for pergolas, decking, cubby houses, claddings, posts, gates, animal enclosures, and landscaping timbers. Many of these structures may be destroyed or damaged during bushfires and the burnt ash may present a hazard.
Treated timber, if burnt, can produce an ash that may contain arsenic, chromium and copper. While arsenic is the most toxic, all three may present a hazard if ingested.
Inhalation would not normally result in poisoning in these situations.
Children, pets and farm animals should be kept away from land where treated timber ash is present.
Young children, especially those under 5 years, are at an increased risk from personal contact and ingestion.
This hazard is not normally encountered as the public is aware that treated timber should not be burned.
In domestic situations, small amounts of treated timber ash can be put in a sealed container and disposed in the garbage.
The ash and any remaining burnt timber in destroyed properties will be removed during the clean up operations.
Ash that may be a hazard in parks and public grounds will be collected during the clean up operations.
Personal protection when collecting ash
Do not touch the ash with your bare skin and avoid disturbing or spreading it.
Wear gloves while working with the ash.
Moisten the ash prior to handling with a shovel.
Remove and wash clothing. Clean footwear.
Wash your hands after finishing work and before eating or food preparation.
The risk of poisoning from ingestion of treated timber ash is very low. If in doubt seek medical advice.