Air quality plummets in wake of smoky haze from ongoing bushfires
WEB Forge Farm pe c7 20200107
THE Forge family from Oxley were stopped in their tracks by this 50 foot flame wall as they tried to get to their Buffalo River property to save their cattle last Saturday night. They tell their story on page 2. PHOTO: Forge family

AFTER three days where smoke from the bushfires has seen the region’s air quality reach hazardous levels, a slight reprieve is expected tomorrow.

The Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) says the forecast is for the air quality in Wangaratta to drop from “hazardous” down to “very poor” tomorrow, however a spokesperson said this was a hesitant prediction.

“There would appear to be a slight improvement on the way, but it is subject to changes in weather conditions and in fire activity,” he told the Wangaratta Chronicle.

“Residents are encouraged to access live air quality monitoring data by visiting the EPA AirWatch website at www.epa.vic.gov.au/for-community/airwatch and to take all necessary precautions.”

The Wangaratta air monitoring site is located on the corner of Greta Road and Bullivant Street and at 5pm on Monday afternoon it registered the city’s poorest air quality of the last few days, reaching a staggering 1491 (fine particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres in diameter).

The EPA considers good air quality is a concentration of air pollutants less than 27, while hazardous is considered anything over 370.

It says while most healthy people can tolerate brief smoke exposure quite well, smoke is more likely to affect some people including those with heart or lung conditions, pregnant women, young children (under 14) and the elderly (over 65).

Symptoms of smoke exposure can include eye, nose and throat irritation, coughing, sneezing and congestion, and the smaller the smoke particles, the greater the potential health impact may be, with the possibility of triggering asthma and worsening heart disease.

The EPA says if you see or smell smoke outside, you should stay inside – but only if it’s safe to do so.

On Saturday the Federal Government announced it had acted on a request from the Victorian Government and provided the state with 450,000 face masks from the national medical stockpile which are being distributed to frontline workers and those at risk or vulnerable in communities affected by the bushfires.

While fitted properly, the “P2 masks” can filter out some of the fine particles from bushfire smoke, it warned they should not be seen as an alternative to avoiding smoke wherever possible.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer, Dr Brett Sutton, from Department of Health and Human Services confirmed that while a P2 or N95 mask with an adjustable breathing valve, found at hardware stores, may be of some help to those people in at-risk categories, other masks such as surgical masks or bandannas, were ineffective.

“Face masks are not a cure all,” he said.

“If you can’t get out or temporarily relocate to areas of better air quality, if you can’t say indoors and are forced to be outside for work or other purposes, that might be a time to wear a mask.

“But it’s important to recognise that a mask can give you a false sense of security – masks are not something you put on so you can go outside, when in fact we’re saying to stay indoors.

“For some people it can increase the work of breathing and they can get quite fatigued with it, so it’s not for everyone.”

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