Asthma Australia welcomes the release of the ACT Government’s Bushfire Smoke and Air Quality Strategy today but says it lacks the substance to drive huge health benefits that could have been gained through public consultation.
Asthma Australia CEO Michele Goldman said air quality was a major health issue facing 48,000 people living with asthma in the nation’s capital, yet there was no consultation on the new strategy, a key commitment following the catastrophic 2019-20 bushfires that blanketed ACT residents in smoke.
“The lack of consultation has resulted in a strategy that provides some welcome commitments such as clean air refuges and guidance for employers to protect workers, but overall misses opportunities to take the actions we need most to protect our health.
“Unfortunately, it overlooks opportunities that could drive huge health improvements – like air purifier subsidies for low-income households vulnerable to smoke, committing to an air quality public education program, and the phasing out of woodfire heaters.”
“The ACT Air Quality Strategy does show the Government’s commitment to responding to bushfire and woodfire heater smoke but we have a way to go,” Ms Goldman said.
Asthma Australia looks forward to having the opportunity to work with the ACT government to ensure the Strategy is backed up by tangible action and funding support to make a real difference to the health and lives of people with asthma in the ACT.
“We’ve been in touch to seek a meeting with the Ministers for Health and Environment to work together on putting the Strategy into action,” Ms Goldman said.
Member of Asthma Australia Research Advisory Committee and Professor of Global Environmental Health at Australian National University, Sotiris Vardoulakis said the strategy underestimates the health impacts of exposure to low levels of pollution.
“Although the new ACT Bushfire Smoke and Air Quality Strategy is a step in the right direction, we need bolder and more specific actions to lower emissions of pollutants from all sources in ACT,” Prof Vardoulakis said.
“There is no safe level of exposure to smoke and the new ACT air quality strategy underestimates the potential health impact of prolonged or repeated exposures to moderate levels of pollution from woodfire heaters, hazard reduction burns, and road traffic.
“The World Health Organization recently released new guidelines that suggest the health impact of air pollution is worse than the Strategy indicates.
“Increased air quality monitoring and forecasting, public awareness campaigns, and larger scale programs to phase out woodfire heaters, and improve air filtration and ventilation in homes, schools, and public buildings are needed.”
ACT residents were among the hardest hit by bushfire smoke generate d during the catastrophic 2019-20 bushfires. During the colder months every year, pollution emitted by woodfire heaters is known to cause respiratory impacts as well as extreme levels of seasonal pollen now in full force.
For more information on Asthma Australia, please visit asthma.org.au/what-we-do/advocacy.