Image for Dear Ms Pickin and Mr Schaap

Dear Ms Pickin and Mr Schaap,

I am aware that NEPM standards are applicable to a healthy population in Australia and thank you for your email.

I understand from your reply that discussions are underway to ‘ensure that susceptible individuals are given health advice in a timely manner.’ However elevations of pollution are relevant to health sufferers and unless a warning system is introduced for registered sufferers prior to and during a smoke event, particularly in the case of

a) large burnload/s planned in the proximity of their workplace or residence/s,  and

b) a widespread elevating PM 10 or 2.5 in real time (eg across a quarter of the state),

an exceedence can occur before susceptible people have been notified.

As you would be aware in recent years Dr Taylor has been unable to notify any of the population, for example in the north west, until the smoke pollution was 4x the exceedence level. Dr Johnstone of the Menzies Research Centre confirms how just one large smoke event can have a catastrophic effect on health; and these events are totally avoidable with a warning system. I am surprised that PEHS endorses burning despite uncapped passive smoking occurring across mass populations.

Whilst ongoing discussions have been occurring for many years, susceptible people are not being warned year after year and public health is deteriorating due to PEHS and EPA neglect of duty.

I am sure you can appreciate that a warning system is an excellent preventative health strategy.  I note that you do not address my question about the burnload regarding the burn/s in question. Multiple and large burnloads and widespread elevations of levels are critical to such a warning system and polluters/authorities can also consider if they want to reduce their burnload decisions if they wish to avoid paying for costs arising out of their pollution under the EMPCA. It is impossible to give timely advice when information relevant to a building exceedence is not gathered or disseminated before the event. Once elevations or exceedences have occured it is too late for health.

Until a warning system and regulator to halt burns is in place, your assurance that timely health advice is given is farcical. I continue to pursue any mention of any developments that are effective in preventing exceedence and ongoing harm to health.

Kind Regards,

Angelika Allen

Quality Air Tasmania

Dear Ms Allen,

Thank you for your email to Roscoe Taylor (Director of Public Health) regarding the air quality in Fingal on 5 October 2011. Dr Taylor is currently on leave and so I am replying on his behalf.

Planned burns can be a very significant contributor to episodes of air pollution. These burns are undertaken by the forestry industry, Parks and Wildlife Service, Local Governments, farmers and private land owners.

Planned burning is conducted by the forestry industry for several reasons:

. regeneration - to promote the growth of new forest in clear-felled areas

. the disposal of waste from clear-felling, to facilitate replanting or to tidy areas for plantations

. maintenance of forest ecological health

. fire hazard reduction, or,

. a combination of the above.

Air monitoring data from Fingal show that the 24-hour average particulate matter concentrations on the 5 October 2011 were 8 micrograms per cubic metre for PM2.5 and 13 micrograms per cubic metre for PM10. The National Environmental Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure (known as the Air NEPM) stipulates air quality standards in Australia. For PM10, there is a 24-hour average standard of 50 micrograms per cubic metre. That is, if PM10 levels, averaged over 24 hours, exceed 50 micrograms per cubic metre, an exceedance of the standard is recorded. The Air NEPM stipulates that the reporting interval is the calendar day (midnight to midnight). For PM2.5, an advisory 24-hour reporting limit is set at 25 micrograms per cubic metre. It is likely that this reporting limit will become a national standard in the future.

The Department of Health and Human Services does not have regulatory control over planned burns, however we are a strong advocator of the health issues associated with smoke with the Government agencies that have more direct control over planned burning. The 24-hour average particulate matter concentrations recorded on 5 October 2011 for Fingal were below these standards. As there were no exceedances of the 24-hour standards, no health warnings were issued. Air monitoring data from Fingal on 5 October 2011 show that particulate matter concentrations peaked at around 100-120 micrograms per cubic metre for two short episodes in the afternoon around 4.30-5 pm and
5.30-6 pm.

Currently there are no air quality standards for PM10 or PM2.5 for intervals shorter than 24-hours. The Public and Environmental Health Service (PEHS) are aware that sometimes there might be high smoke particle concentrations for only a few hours, especially during a burn-off or bushfire. Although the 24-hour standard may not be breached, some people may experience effects from the smoke generated over as little as a one or two hour period. The PEHS and the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) are aware that smoke (from any source) in sufficient concentrations can lead to exacerbations of asthma and other health conditions; and that some individuals with respiratory conditions are particularly susceptible to the effects of smoke, even from short, episodic exposures. The PEHS is working with Asthma Tasmania and others to ensure that susceptible individuals, for whom the risks of smoke pollution are greater, are given health advice in an effective and timely manner.

Regards,

Chrissie Pickin,

Deputy Director Public Health

Population Health | Department of Health and Human Services

A fair and healthy Tasmania