20 December 2019

Canberra air quality over 500% worse than hazardous threshold

| Dominic Giannini
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Weston Creek

Looking over Weston Creek through the smoke haze at 8:00 am this morning. Photo: Region Media.

The air quality station at Florey recorded an air quality index (AQI) reading of 1007 at midday (20 December), more than five-times the hazardous AQI level of 200.

The plummeting air quality levels in the capital are worse than China and India, and the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) says the smoke is here to stay.

With the ACT being surrounded by haze in pretty much all directions, wind changes are just recirculating smoke from across the Riverina or blowing fresh smoke in from the east.

BoM Meteorologist Helen Reid says there may be a slight improvement in air quality; however, conditions can also deteriorate from smoke over the central tablelands or more smoke being blown inland over the course of the day.

Screenshots from ACT Health.

“Basically there is either recirculated smoke or fresh smoke,” she said. “There will be north-west to south-west winds today, which will blow in smoke over the Riverina and will recirculate.

“Overnight we are expecting an easterly to push through, bringing in smoke from fires to the east; that is, the Currowan and North Black Range fires.”


Smoke haze in Braddon compared. Photo: Twitter. Dr Holly Vuong (@CoughItUp1).

Saturday will see north-west winds blow smoke inland towards Canberra, and a southerly change will only drag up more smoke from the Victorian fires, but Canberra is more likely to be affected by a south-easterly change, bringing an influx of fresh smoke on Saturday evening.

Hazardous levels mean the general public will be noticeably affected and adverse health effect can trigger other illnesses. It is advised that everyone should avoid exercise and remain indoors.

ACT Health says conditions like this can cause itchy or burning eyes, throat irritation, a runny nose and shortness of breath and coughing, and these symptoms can last for a few days after exposure.

If you experience chest tightness, wheezing, or difficulty breathing, seek urgent medical assistance, ACT Health says.

For further information on air quality, visit ACT Health.

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Capital Retro10:25 am 21 Dec 19

It was reported in the Bureau of Meteorology Bulletin No. 38 that Canberra was surrounded by serious bushfires in late 1925, one with a 10 km front beyond the Murrumbidgee River which resulted in Canberra being covered by a heavy smoke pall for about a week in January 1926.

The smoke we are getting now is actually coming from the east so as Canberra is surrounded by bush we are constantly exposed to this happening every 50 -100 years.

Stephen Saunders11:36 am 20 Dec 19

I understand that the optics have been even worse in Hawaii…

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