Fri, Dec 06, 2019 - Page 4 News List

Sydney smoke crisis ‘longest on record’

‘UNPRECEDENTED’:Hundreds of bushfires along the east coast and dust have created what some officials called the highest air pollution ever seen in the nation


A family spends their evening at a beach in Sydney on Wednesday, as smoke haze continues to hang over the city.

Photo: AFP

Australian bushfires have caused unprecedented pollution in Sydney and along the country’s east coast, officials said yesterday, with smoke and dust burning residents’ eyes and prompting a spike in respiratory complaints.

Hundreds of bushfires have burned out of control since September along the eastern seaboard, covering cities from Sydney to Brisbane in smoke for weeks on end.

The extent of the crisis was made clear yesterday, with the New South Wales Department of Environment declaring that bushfires and dust had caused “some of the highest air pollution ever seen” in Australia.

The region “has experienced other periods of poor air quality that lasted several weeks, including the 1994 Sydney bushfires and the Black Christmas bushfires of Dec. 2001 to Jan. 2002,” a spokeswoman said.

“This event, however, is the longest and the most widespread in our records,” she added.

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service said more than a dozen fires were burning near Sydney yesterday, including three that carried an emergency warning.

For three weeks the city has seen almost daily air quality warnings.

Bushfires are common in Australia, but scientists say this year’s season has come earlier and with more intensity due to a prolonged drought fueled by climate change.

New South Wales health officials said more people with asthma were turning up at hospitals, and ambulance call-outs for breathing problems were up 24 percent last week.

Meanwhile, tourists and residents took measures to combat the smoke, buying facemasks and staying indoors as much as possible.

Yesterday, Sydney’s air quality index registered fine particulate pollution — small enough to penetrate deep inside the lungs — at more than 160 parts per million, far above levels considered to be safe.

Local newspapers and television have posted advice about how to limit the impact of the smoke — offering tips on what masks to buy and what activities are safest.

The nation recorded its lowest level of rainfall for the month of November, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology said yesterday.

All of Australia received less than 50mm of rain last month, with parts of the west coast receiving less than 1mm, it said.

The dry weather extends a drought that has gripped the east coast for three years.

The dry weather is not expected to break for at least another three months, the bureau said last week.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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