Controlled bushfires lead to ‘hazardous’ Sydney air quality

In some areas the air quality is so bad, it’s more than three times “hazardous” levels.

And the bad news is, it could hang around for some days.

Sydneysiders woke up to the acrid odour of burning and hazy streets on the way to work. At train stations many passengers used tissues and handkerchiefs to keep out the smell.

The NSW Government’s Air Quality Index (AQI) shows large parts of Sydney are suffering from hazardous air quality, the most extreme. This is when the index rises above 200.

At 7am on Monday, Rozelle, Lindfield and Liverpool all had an AQI of above 200 while Campbelltown was as high as 626.

The Government states that prolonged spells of hazardous air pollution “can affect everyone’s health”. Even healthy people should avoid spending too much time on outdoor physical activities.

The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) told a series of hazard reduction burns surrounding Sydney were responsible for the poor conditions.

“Even those on the outskirts are actually quite large and produce a lot of smoke,” RFS spokesman Chris Garlick said.

The burns are taking place in the Southern Highlands and at Colo Heights in the city’s north west. But the largest burn is in Heathcote where 160 hectares of the Royal National Park are ablaze.

The RFS is getting on top of burning now because of lessons learned in 2018.

“Because we had such an early bushfire season last year, we didn’t do as much burning in those spring months,” Mr Garlick said.

“We haven’t had this opportunity for quite some time with cooler temperatures, lighter winds and high humidity particularly when moisture in the fuel is quite low.”

A planned hazard reduction burn taking place close to Sydney. Picture: RFS.Source:Supplied

The Air Quality Index for Sydney shows many suburbs have ‘hazardous’ levels of air pollution due to the hazard reduction burns. Picture: RFS.

The Air Quality Index for Sydney shows many suburbs have ‘hazardous’ levels of air pollution due to the hazard reduction burns. Picture: RFS.Source:Supplied

But Mr Garlick said the weather conditions that made it perfect for hazard reduction burns also meant it was likely the smoke would linger. The absence of wind reduces the risk that hazard reduction burns might get out of control and makes conditions safer for firefighters.

“The lack of wind and, at the moment, an inversion layer which is effectively trapping the smoke in the city,” he said.

“That’s expected to lift later, but the winds are not strong enough to push smoke around.”

The RFS said the major burns were likely to continue into the week, which could mean Sydney residents wake to a number of smoggy mornings.

Mr Garlick advised those affected by the smoke to take precautions.

“Stay out of smoke as much as you can so head to shops, offices or home and those people with asthma should follow their asthma action plan.”


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