The public health impacts of bushfire emergencies are very worrying. While physical injuries are the direct impacts of bushfires, indirect impacts can be caused by air pollution. This pollution includes small particles of carbon, dirt, dust and noxious gases that can affect the nose, throat, lungs or cardiovascular system. The heart and brain can be affected by toxicity and inflammation responses throughout the bloodstream.
Most healthy people won’t have long-term health consequences, and the most common symptoms are itchy eyes and sore throat. However, at higher risk are vulnerable populations such as people with pre-existing conditions (such as asthma, bronchitis and cardiovascular conditions) or those who have high exposure levels, such as people who cannot take time off work to avoid being outside.
Large-scale health studies of bushfire smoke and dust are limited, but the findings are broadly consistent with the current evidence concerning urban air pollution from small particles. In this case, there is strong evidence for the link with non-accidental and cardiovascular deaths.
One of the most notable issues about dust and smoke events is the lag time of effects. For non-accidental and cardiovascular mortality, the impacts are greatest on the day of, and the day immediately following, a smoke event. But they can occur three days after a dust event.