Doctors: Bushfires in NSW pose a major public health threat and the Government needs to act   

Doctors for the Environment Australia calls for a federally coordinated national meeting to direct action in response to the unprecedented public health threat from months of bushfire smoke in eastern Australia. DEA fears exposure will potentially affect the health and wellbeing of up to ten million people in both the short and longer term. 

DEA offers its deepest condolences to those who have lost loved ones and those who have lost their homes in the fires. 

 Bushfires are engulfing large areas of the east coast of Australia. Two million hectares have burnt, including more than 10% of our national parkland. Smoke covers large parts of NSW, ACT and southern Queensland. On Wednesday, Sydney was shrouded in smoke, as the air quality index reached 11 times higher than “hazardous” in many parts of the city.

 “The combined challenges of the fires and the air pollution are stretching the capacity of our fire and emergency services,” says DEA’s Honorary Secretary Dr Richard Yin. 

 “These challenges might well continue long into the summer, taxing the capacity of those working on the frontline. 

 “Bushfire air pollution causes health effects from minor irritation through to major respiratory failure, heart attack and stroke. 

 “Short term exposure to air pollution is known to worsen heart disease, asthma exacerbations, chronic lung disease, diabetes and blood clots. 

 “New research also shows that short-term increases in fine particle air pollution is associated with many other illnesses including acute kidney failure and sepsis (severe infection). There is no safe level of air pollution as harms occur even below World Health Organization standards. 

 “Bushfire smoke impacts the health of the most vulnerable populations-those with chronic respiratory and cardiac conditions, the elderly and frail, the young, children and babies.

 “The current conditions of extreme dryness and temperatures and longer bushfire seasons all align with climate change projections. There is little ground moisture and without rain these fires will likely continue for months to come. 

 “Climate change is widely recognized by medical organisations to be one of the greatest threats to public health of our time.” 

On Wednesday, the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ) which represents respiratory health professionals, joined other health organisations which had previously declared climate change a health emergency. This includes the AMA (Australian Medical Association), the RACP (Royal Australasian College of Physicians), the ACEM (Australasian College of Emergency Medicine), the ACRRM (Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine) and Doctors for the Environment Australia. 
This follows statements from the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, the British Medical Association, and the World Health Organization. 

 Says Dr Yin, “The reaction of the Morrison government leaves many of us horrified. This is an unprecedented public health challenge to affect Australia and yet our government proposes ‘business as usual’ in relation to greenhouse gas emissions. 

 “Surely this is a wake-up call to seriously address the changing climate that threatens our lives now and those of our children? 

 “DEA calls on the federal government to demonstrate the leadership required to manage and mitigate present and future events and their health threats. Response to this disaster cannot be left on the shoulders of our fire-fighters and emergency health services alone. 

 “It is imperative that the federal government transition Australia from our fossil fuel reliance as fast as possible. 

“The current Australian experience of devastating bushfires and their impacts is an example to the world of the importance of rapid action on climate change. Our health depends on such action."  

Media contacts 

 DEA Hon Secretary and Perth GP, Dr Richard Yin

ACT DEA Chair and cardiologist, Dr Arnagretta Hunter

Emergency specialist based in Sydney, Dr Lai Heng Foong

To arrange an interview with any of the above spokespeople, please contact DEA's Media and Communications Coordinator Carmela Ferraro on 0410 703 074


 Bushfires and Health in a Changing Environment fact sheet 

 About DEA 

DEA is an independent organisation of medical doctors protecting health through care of the environment We are supported by a Scientific Advisory Committee of distinguished health experts: Prof Stephen Boyden AM, Prof Emeritus Chris Burrell AO, Prof Colin Butler, Prof Peter Doherty AC, Prof Michael Kidd AM, Prof David de Kretser AC, Prof Stephen Leeder AO, Prof Ian Lowe AO, Prof Robyn McDermott, Prof Lidia Morawska, Prof Peter Newman AO, Prof Emeritus Sir Gustav Nossal AC, Prof Hugh Possingham, Prof Lawrie Powell AC, Prof Fiona Stanley AC, Dr Rosemary Stanton OAM, Dr Norman Swan  

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