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Sydney bushfires, hazard burns linked to deaths, hospitalisations

18 April 2018
Call for health risks to be factored into fire management
As Sydney is blanketed by smoky haze from back-burning a major blaze, a University of Sydney report reveals bushfires and hazard burning caused 197 premature deaths and 1200 hospitalisations across the city between 2001-13.
Sydney Opera House

In this week's Medical Journal of Australia, the researchers say that even short-term exposure to air pollution acts as a stressor on the human body and exacerbates existing health conditions.

“Additional deaths caused by air pollution are more likely to occur in vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and those with chronic diseases,” says Associate Professor Geoffrey Morgan at the University of Sydney.

Our study indicates that a substantial additional health burden is associated with the indirect effects of smoke from bushfires and hazard reduction burns
Associate Professor Geoffrey Morgan, University of Sydney

“Because we made conservative assumptions about air pollution exposure and health impact estimates, these findings are likely to under-estimate the true health impact of fire smoke in Sydney.”

Many fires burn every year throughout Australia and some cause substantial health and social impacts. For example, seventy-seven deaths in New South Wales were directly attributed to bushfires during 1901–2011.

“Our study indicates that a substantial additional health burden is associated with the indirect effects of smoke from bushfires and hazard reduction burns.

“While hazard reduction burning is important for reducing risks to lives and property, and averting tragedies, we recommend that the health risks of fire smoke pollution be factored explicitly into managing fires through collaboration between health, environment, and fire management agencies,” Dr Morgan said.

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