Update 11 February 2020: This public health alert has been resolved. Air quality in the ACT has returned to good levels. In the event of a sudden onset weather or smoke event (for example, a dust storm or fire) ACT Health undertakes an assessment and will issue a public health alert specific to the event.
Smoke will continue to affect the ACT while bushfires in our region continue to burn. During this time, the ACT Health Directorate's advice remains the same.
Health advice for smoke
Frequently Asked Questions about current air quality, smoke and heat conditions in the ACT.
During periods of heavy smoke, visibility and air quality can be impacted. All Canberrans are advised to minimise their levels of prolonged or heavy physical activity outdoors. When there is heavy smoke in the area it is best to avoid all physical activity outdoors.
Common reactions people may experience with heavy smoke include:
- itchy or burning eyes
- throat irritation
- runny nose, and
These common irritations are not serious and can be best managed by avoiding prolonged periods outdoors where possible. People can also consider using water-based eye drops and throat lozenges to help alleviate these irritations.
While exposure to smoke can be unpleasant, for healthy people taking measures to limit their exposure, it is unlikely they will be at risk of serious health harms from the current smoke event.
For people sensitive to smoke and air pollution
People who are sensitive to smoke, especially those with pre-existing heart and lung conditions, should take extra care during these conditions.
This includes remaining indoors where possible, with windows and doors closed, and not using evaporative air conditioners which draw air into the house from outside.
Anyone with a heart or lung condition should take their medication as prescribed by their doctor. People with asthma should follow their asthma action plan.
Anyone with concerns about their health should seek medical advice from their doctor. And anyone experiencing wheezing, chest tightness or difficulty breathing should seek urgent medical attention and in the event of a medical emergency call triple-zero (000).
People who can be more vulnerable to smoke and air pollution include:
- people with heart or lung conditions (including asthma)
- children aged less than 14 years
- pregnant women, and
- people over 65 years of age.
Watch Video - ACT Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerryn Coleman on ways to look after your health in the smoky conditions.
Our advice to the community is that it is best to avoid exposure to the smoke through staying indoors where possible, and not using evaporative air conditioners which draw air into the house from outside.
Ordinary paper masks are not effective at filtering smoke, however do not cause any harm if people choose to wear them and they feel they get some benefit.
Evidence shows P2 and N95 masks do filter some smoke and are most commonly used in occupational settings where exposure to airborne particles occur on a regular basis. However they cannot completely eliminate exposure to smoke, and as they can be difficult to fit and use appropriately, they are not an alternative to avoiding outdoor exposure.
If you choose to use a mask outdoors, please refer to our Use of P2/N95 Masks factsheet and watch this instructional video to learn how to fit the mask properly.
- People with chronic lung and heart conditions, should seek advice from a health professional prior to using these masks.
- Masks are not appropriate for use on children, so avoiding exposure is the best way to protect them.
Supply for vulnerable Canberrans
On 6 January 2020 it was announced that P2/N95 masks are being delivered to pharmacies and will be available for people who are most at risk of the health impacts of exposure to the smoke. Masks will also be available through the Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service for their clients.
This is the small supply of P2/N95 masks provided by the Commonwealth Government for the ACT.
The groups of particularly sensitive individuals who will be able to access these masks, if they choose, include:
- people with existing chronic lung and heart conditions, such as asthma, chronic bronchitis or emphysema, and heart disease
- all pregnant women, and
- people over 65 years of age.
Each eligible person will receive two masks at the pharmacy.
ACT Health recommends that people with lung condition, such as chronic obstructive airways disease, asthma or emphysema, and people with chronic heart conditions, should seek advice from their medical practitioner prior to using these masks.
In regards to retail sales of masks, some are available at Canberra pharmacies and hardware stores.
We ask the community to join with us in ensuring that we are supporting the people in our community who are most at risk of the health impacts of the smoke at this time.
The Government is continuing to monitor demand for masks and is working closely with Canberra retailers.