CSIRO, ACU, UTAS and DEWLP working together to understand indoor smoke in public spaces
Smoke exposure health effects
The Australian bushfires of summer 2019/2020 have produced large amounts of smoke with yet unknown long-term health effects.
This smoke has brought high concentrations of particulate matter smaller than 2.5µm (PM2.5) to rural and urban populations alike. Those closest to the fires have experienced highly elevated levels for extended periods of time. PM2.5 is of interest due to its ability to affect both the respiratory and circulatory systems, causing a wide range of health effects. The elderly, children, pregnant women and those with respiratory issues are most at risk to experience health effects. Studies have shown there is no known safe concentration below which PM2.5 has no health effects.
SMoke Observation Gadgets (SMOGs) and Air Purifiers
A number of UTAS owned High Efficiency Particulate Arresting (cleaners were distributed to medical centres and aged care facilities in Victoria during the bushfire emergency. The installed air cleaners use High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters which are designed to remove at least 99.97% of particles greater than or equal to 0.3µm. In January 2020, Dr. Fabienne Reisen (CSIRO), Dr. Amanda Wheeler (ACU) and Mr. Christopher Roulston (CSIRO), travelled to the smoke affected regional centres in northern Victoria with support from EPA Victoria and the Department of Health, Victoria. They installed the SMOGs alongside the HEPA air cleaners. The SMOG units measure an estimated concentration of particles between 0.3µm and 2.5µm. The program will improve our understanding of the effectiveness of HEPA air cleaners, as well as which building characteristics of public spaces, are most effective barriers against smoke ingress when selecting public buildings to be used as clean air refuges during episodes of poor air quality caused by smoke.
The installation of additional SMOG units outdoors will also assist with validation of the smoke forecasting system AQFx. Data from SMOG units, EPA air quality stations and satellite data are used in near real-time to validate and adapt AQFx outputs. AQFx allows emergency service personnel and government advisors to provide up to date information to those impacted by long lasting smoke events. So, more measurement points contribute to more accurate predictions.
The air purifiers are provided by UTAS for the duration of the study.