Long-term government research into Sydney’s air quality has revealed we’re in pretty dire straits and honestly, my mountain of antihistamines could have told ya that.
Led by the Department of Planning and Environment and in collaboration with the Environment Protection Authority and the Ministry of Health, the multi-year study found estimated air pollution in NSW caused 603 premature deaths and increased health costs by $4.8 billion each year.
The largest cause of air pollution was actually wood heaters (estimated 269 deaths a year), which I wasn’t expecting. In fact, the report suggested people who use wood heaters (roughly 10 per cent of homes in NSW) were estimated to have lost 12 years off of their life each.
Wood heating was followed by the usual suspects of air pollution: industrial sites like mines (133 deaths and $1 billion in health costs), road vehicles (110 deaths and $832 million in health costs) and coal power stations (46 deaths and $346 million in health costs).
The study also examined the concentration of PM2.5 (particulate matter 2.5 micrometers or smaller) in the air, which are basically really small invisible particles that can be inhaled, enter your bloodstream and cause heart and lung diseases — as well as other issues.
Environmental scientist Donna Green told Guardian Australia that high levels of PM2.5 could “affect every system in your body, which means you’re not only talking about respiratory-related and heart-related problems, people are linking it to diabetes and dementia”.
According to the World Health Organisation’s guidelines, you want PM2.5 levels to be at less than 5 micrograms a cubic metre over a year. According to the study, the average PM2.5 levels for Sydney was 6.43 (yikes) and it reached all the way up to 12 in parts of the Upper Hunter (MEGA YIKES).
In Sydney, the biggest sources of air pollution were wood heaters and things like cars and trucks. In the Hunter, it was coal mines and the diesel vehicles used at them.
Policy director with the Nature Conservation Council Brad Smith called air pollution a “silent epidemic” and said the results should prompt our governments to “leave coal, gas and oil in the ground and wood in forests”, per Guardian Australia.
“It’s clear that burning wood, petrol and coal is killing us, and imposing a huge health cost on Sydneysiders,” he said.
You’d think all this, plus years of discussing the catastrophic effects of coal mining and other fossil fuel use in our country, would convince our leaders we need to leave that shit in the ground. But alas, here we are rubbing our itchy eyes and stifling yet more coughs.
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