NSW Health to distribute masks as bushfire smoke health risks rise

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Many chemists and hardware stores across the Illawarra have either sold out or are running low on breathing masks, as people rush to protect themselves from the ongoing ‘hazardous’ air in the region.

So, with dangerous smoke predicted to be a problem for weeks to come as the bushfire crisis across Australia continues, the federal government has opened up its national medical stockpiles of particulate-filter masks.

NSW Health will be distributing a million Commonwealth-provided P2 masks to hospitals, health facilities, recovery and evacuation centres and pharmacies in affected areas.

The local health district says the masks will be sent to community pharmacies in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven over the coming days.

“Members of the public should check with their local pharmacy about the availability of P2 masks,” a spokeswoman from the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District said.

“The supply provided to hospitals within ISLHD will be used for those patients with chronic conditions requiring additional protection.”

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On Wednesday, the Illawarra’s air quality remained at double the “hazardous” levels all day, with visibility readings as high as 429 in Albion Park (200 is considered hazardous).

Dangerous fine particles were also at hazardous levels at the Kembla Grange monitor, according to the NSW Air Quality Index.

When used correctly, P2 masks can filter out fine particles, however, according the NSW Health, “they require an extremely good fit to work properly and are not suitable for everyone”.

To best avoid smoke, stay indoors with windows and doors closed and avoid outdoor exercise, the health department advised.

The Greens have asked Health Minister Brad Hazzard to go one step further and distribute free face masks and air purifiers

“NSW Health should urgently distribute free P2 masks to pharmacies and health clinics across NSW and set up air quality information booths at shopping centres to make sure people are aware of the risks they face,” Greens MP and Health spokesperson Cate Faehrmann said.

“It’s negligent of the government to not be taking proactive measures… when emergency department presentations for respiratory problems are spiking and the AMA is warning that even healthy people are now at risk from the impacts of bushfire smoke.

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“NSW Health should also be providing air purifiers for vulnerable people so they can have some relief while indoors. Most houses just aren’t sealed well enough to prevent the indoor quality getting almost as bad as outside.”

Keira MP and Labor’s Health spokesman Ryan Park also warned people to be to mindful of air quality during the “horrific” bushfire season.

“According to medical experts, babies, young children and the elderly or those already experiencing chronic respiratory or cardiovascular problems are at higher risk as the level of air quality declines – as well as those who cannot afford air conditioning,” Mr Park’s office said in a media release.

“NSW is currently experiencing an unprecedented air quality crisis over the course of this fire season.

“It’s important that people take care of themselves, their families and fellow community members at this difficult time.”

He advised residents to:

  • stay indoors unless it is not safe to do so.
  • keep windows and doors shut,
  • switch air conditioners to ‘recirculate’
  • take advantage of air conditioned public spaces such as public libraries or cinemas
  • particular attention should be paid to children, the elderly and others who might be at risk.

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Content retrieved from: https://www.illawarramercury.com.au/story/6571043/nsw-health-to-distribute-masks-as-bushfire-smoke-health-risks-rise/.

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