Smoke levels impacting children are dire- declare a public health emergency, experts say

by Freya Lucas

December 16

As New South Wales and Queensland-based early childhood education and care (ECEC) services struggle to manage children’s worries about bushfires, and the impact of restricted outside play because of ongoing smoke haze, health experts are pushing for public health emergency to be declared, and for State and Federal Governments to take urgent steps in response. 

 

A joint statement has been issued today, with 22 health and medical groups calling for a Government response to what they have termed the “bushfire smoke public health emergency” that has been created, primarily in NSW, by the ongoing air pollution from bushfire smoke.

 

The groups include the Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA), Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), Australasian College of Emergency Medicine (ACEM), Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA), Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA), Lung Foundation Australia (LFA), Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ), Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF), as well as 14 others.  

 

Climate and Health Alliance Executive Director Fiona Armstrong said both the Federal Government and the State Government of NSW must prioritise action to help reduce risks to people’s health from the air pollution caused by the bushfires and implement measures to help alleviate the health and climate crisis. 

 

“Climate change is going to get much worse and we will see more and more of these events. We must take the kinds of actions on climate change that scientists are calling for: dramatic cuts in emissions within the next few years or we’ll see warming potentially spiral out of control and we won’t be able to stop it,” she added. 

 

Her perspective was supported by Royal Australasian College of Physicians Fellow Dr Kate Charlesworth who emphasised the impact of climate change on children, saying “climate-related health effects are having the most impact on our most vulnerable: babies, children, the elderly and people with pre-existing disease. There is no safe level of air pollution. To protect health, we need to shift rapidly away from fossil fuels and towards cleaner, healthier and safer forms of energy.”  

 

Doctors for the Environment Australia spokesperson Dr Lai Heng Foong said the pollution from bushfire smoke “remains hazardous to people, in the short term and also the long-term. This public health emergency will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable, including young children, the elderly and those with existing chronic diseases, such as asthma.” 

 

He said the fires in NSW and QLD are merely “a sign of what’s to come” noting that in the coming summers “we can expect not only a bushfire season, but also a smoke haze season. The effects of climate change are upon us now, and we can no longer delay action to mitigate against these effects.”

 

To read the statement in full, please see here

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