News National Black Summer bushfire smoke killed nearly 450 people, inquiry hears

Black Summer bushfire smoke killed nearly 450 people, inquiry hears

bushfire royal commission smoke
Canberra under a blanket of smoke in January 2020.
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Health experts have told the Bushfire Royal Commission smoke from the Black Summer bushfires that raged across Australia affected 80 per cent of the population.

The commission, which is looking into Australia’s preparedness for and responses to natural disasters, is hearing from health experts about the short and long-term impacts of bushfires.

Majority of Australians affected by bushfire smoke

On Tuesday, the commission heard modelling done by health researchers found 80 per cent of Australians were affected by bushfire smoke at some point over the 2019/2020 season.

Associate Professor Fay Johnston from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania said her team estimated about 445 people died as a result of the smoke, more than 3000 people were admitted to hospital for respiratory problems and 1700 people presented for asthma.

“We were able to work out a yearly cost of bushfire smoke for each summer season and … our estimates for the last season were $2 billion in health costs,” she said.

“There’s fluctuation year to year, of course, but that was a major departure from anything we had seen in the previous 20 years.”

Melbourne smoke
Bushfire smoke blankets Melbourne on January 14. Photo: AAP

Associate Professor Johnston said one of the most pressing lessons from the past season was the need to standardised measurements and health advice.

“I think what we can do right now is get better at how we share information about smoke to members of the community,” she said.

“There is a national standard for various air pollutants, but how that information gets shared with the public and the advice that goes with this varies state by state and actually varies by a surprising amount.”

She said eastern states, including NSW and Victoria, were more affected by the smoke than Western and South Australia and Tasmania.