One in ten Victorians live with asthma, a serious health issue: Each year asthma is the cause of more than 100 deaths and 11,628 hospital admissions in Victoria, half of which are children.
- Air pollution can have severe health effects for those living with asthma: Pollutants from domestic wood heaters remain a major source of air pollution in the state, each heater responsible for more than $4,000 in health costs each year for those impacted.
- ‘Clean Air for all Victorians’ strategy is a roadmap to reduce air pollution in the state – but action needed now: Asthma Australia is urging the Victorian Government to commit to swift action on wood heater policy reform and to back the organisations AirSmart public education campaign and app before another winter and the increased risk from air pollution for those living with asthma.
Asthma Australia is calling for action on the Victorian Government’s ‘Clean Air for all Victorians’ strategy this election, which recognises the serious impact of air pollution on the health of more 700,000 Victorians living with asthma.
Air pollution causes an estimated seven million deaths per year worldwide, which is more than all deaths caused by COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.6,7 In Australia, air pollution contributes to 3,000 premature deaths every year – almost three times more than the national annual road toll.
People with asthma are vulnerable to the health effects of air pollution, alongside the elderly, pregnant women, young babies and those with heart and other lung conditions.
Whilst CEO of Asthma Australia Michele Goldman sees the Clean Air Strategy as a step forward for Victorians, she stresses the urgency and the need for immediate action this election:
“It has been two winters since the Victorian Parliament led an Inquiry into air quality. People with asthma are dreading another smoke-filled winter and simply can’t afford to wait. There is an opportunity to focus on feasible solutions now, to ensure those living with asthma can breathe easier in winter and all year round.”
The Victorian Government’s strategy confirms that a major source of air pollution is domestic wood heaters which are responsible for almost a third (38%) of PM2.5 emissions in Victoria, stating there are 240,000 wood heaters across Victorian neighbourhoods.5 PM2.5 is a dangerous air pollutant, and the particles can be so small they can get deep into the lungs and into the bloodstream – for which there is no safe level of exposure.9
Asthma Australia research shows that people affected by asthma are twice as likely to experience respiratory symptoms when exposed to smoke from wood heaters, compared to the general population.10
On average each heater burns 3.75 tonnes of wood per year, releasing harmful compounds into the air that can surpass $4,000 in annual health costs per heater.
Asthma is a serious health issue that impacts over 11% of Victorians1 and is the leading cause of the burden of disease for younger Australians, aged 5–14 years.11 The condition has been responsible for over 100 deaths in Victoria every year (2020),3 and nearly 11,628 hospitalisations, of which almost half are children aged 0-14years.12 Up to 90% of hospital admissions due to asthma each year are considered potentially preventable (2020/2021).
Earlier this year, Asthma Australia successfully implemented six-week pilot of AirSmart – an air quality public education campaign including an app and education driven through social media and advertising. The campaign offered people the information needed to plan their day and reduce exposure to air pollution, and by doing so reduce the negative impacts of unhealthy air on their health, wellbeing, and participation in society. Results were very encouraging, and Asthma Australia is seeking state government funding in the upcoming state election to support the rollout of this vital initiative in Victoria.
“We’re pleased to see that the ‘Clean Air for all Victorians’ strategy emphasises the importance of improving environmental health literacy, an area we have been focusing on for some time,” said Ms Goldman.
“The AirSmart app was downloaded 16,000 times over the period of the pilot, which shows the significant need for educational tools for those living with asthma. We found the community extremely willing to learn and access local information about air pollution, that’s why it’s crucial we provide them access to sources of information as soon as possible,” added Ms Goldman.
Further to education and policy reform, Asthma Australia is calling for support and funding this upcoming state election for services for people with asthma in Victoria. This includes the peak body’s 1800 phone line; Schools and Young People’s Program; and the education of health care professionals which offers guidance on asthma management with a third of calls to the service originating from callers in Victoria.
Asthma Australia’s election priorities can be viewed here: https://asthma.org.au/what-we-do/advocacy/elections/.