What is the air quality in Sydney?
In general, Sydney has some of the best air of any major city. In 2017 and 2018, its overall annual air quality was within the World Health Organisation’s recommended guideline of 10 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m³): in 2017, Sydney’s air quality was on average 7.1 µg/m³, and in 2018 7.6 µg/m³. However, Sydney’s 2019 annual average increased towards the end of the year due to serious and persistent bushfires in the wider New South Wales region. Smoke from the bushfires, mostly from the north, at times brought a thick haze to Sydney.
From October to December, Sydney broke into the Top 10 most polluted major cities live ranking, and took top positions among cities such as India’s Delhi, Bangladesh’s Dhaka and Pakistan’s Lahore. Sydney’s air regularly rated in the “Unhealthy” category on the U.S. Air Quality Index (AQI), and the “Hazardous” category on Australia’s own Air Quality Index, which is even more stringent than the U.S. AQI.
What are the causes of air pollution in Sydney?
When there is noticeable air pollution in Sydney, it is generally caused by bushfires. Bushfire season in the New South Wales region occurs from October to March and depends on weather conditions, such as drought and wind.
However, the severity of bushfires early in the 2019 season has caused alarm. The number of days of extreme fire danger – and the length of the bushfire season – have increased across many regions in Australia, according to a report from the country’s Bureau of Meteorology.
What are the effects of Sydney’s air pollution?
In the first week of December when daily air quality ranged from “Moderate” to “Unhealthy” levels, health authorities reported around a 30% increase in ambulance calls and a 25% increase in patients in the New South Wales region.
High levels of PM2.5 are known to cause irritation to the eyes, throat and nose, shortness of breath, coughing, and exacerbation of asthma or lung conditions in the short-term. Long-term exposure to PM2.5 can result in respiratory illnesses such as asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema.
Poor visibility from the haze in late 2019 caused disruptions to transportation, including ferry cancellations and flight delays.
The smoke also caused smoke alarms to set off in office buildings across the city’s Central Business District.
How can air pollution in Sydney be reduced?
Real-time air quality data must be made easily available to everyone with greater granularity. When people know how much pollution they are breathing, they can better take measures to protect themselves and mobilise efforts around tackling air pollution.
Thousands of Sydney residents gathered on Dec. 11 to protest government inaction after months of poor air quality and bushfires. Speakers called on the government to provide more support for firefighters, healthcare services, and schools.
The key to reducing air pollution in the long run is reducing emissions. Australia is not on track to meet its emissions target of a 26% cut by 2030, and, without using the highly-contested Kyoto carryover credits, it will only achieve a 16% cut. Under a meaningful global deal, Australia’s fair share of emissions cut would be at least 45%.
Individuals can take steps in their daily life to reduce personal emissions by carpooling or taking public transport, switching to greener fuel alternatives, and more.
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