Hazard reduction burns leave pollution in the air

Springwood and Wentworth Falls's air quality is currently "hazardous" for pollution and smog levels, and parts of Katoomba have "very poor" readings, following the after effects of weekend hazard reductions.

The data is now available thanks to a community campaign to measure it which started last week (Tuesday May 14). It updates half hourly via portable solar powered 'koala' (knowing our ambient local air quality) sensors.

Springwood's air quality is currently "hazardous" for pollution and smog levels, and parts of Wentworth Falls and Katoomba are at "very poor" levels, following the after effects of weekend hazard reductions. Residents are reminded to follow instructions from fire crews from several hazard reduction burns. Picture: Supplied

Springwood's air quality is currently "hazardous" for pollution and smog levels, and parts of Wentworth Falls and Katoomba are at "very poor" levels, following the after effects of weekend hazard reductions. Residents are reminded to follow instructions from fire crews from several hazard reduction burns. Picture: Supplied

At 5pm today (Wednesday May 22) data from the three new Springwood sites indicate hazardous levels for the "current concentration of pollutants" between 58 and 62 micrograms per cubic metres of PM 2.5 particles. Wentworth Falls is worse with higher readings reaching between 51 and 89. Hazardous is the worst reading available.

According to the Journal of Thoracic Medicine, fine air particle pollutants or PM2.5 (particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) can penetrate deeply into the lung, irritate and corrode the alveolar wall, and consequently impair lung function.

An Environment Protection Authority spokeswoman said "the website for the KOALA sensors shows the latest reading of PM2.5 fine air particles per cubic metre of air. The sensors measure and communicate the latest particle concentration every 30-40mins."

But she adds that the "sensor webpage provides an instantaneous reading and this should not be compared to national air quality standards which are based on a 24 hour average and require sampling at compliant locations with specific instruments".

The sensors are being operated by the Queensland University of Technology over the next year to provide a valuable indication of local air quality in Katoomba, Springwood, Wentworth Falls and Lithgow. There is no testing in the Lower Mountains.

NSW Health issued an alert yesterday in relation to smoke from planned hazard reduction burns https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/news/Pages/20190521_00.aspx

Information is also available on the Rural Fire Service website about their hazard reduction burns, https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/fire-information/hazard-reductions

The nearest NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) monitoring stations had previously been only at Bathurst and St Marys. Wentworth Falls' air quality was briefly monitored (and cleared) for pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide, in 1988-89. The closest OEH station is now Katoomba.

The koala sensors provide indicative information on ambient air quality that will complement data from the larger (and also temporary) Katoomba monitoring station which is operated by the Office of Environment and Heritage and measures carbon monoxide, fine particles (PM 10 and PM 2.5), sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, carbon ozone, visibility and meteorology.

The move follows more than a year of campaigning by the Blue Mountains Unions and Community group, who have been particularly concerned by the effects of uncovered coal being transported on the train line.

Spokesman Peter Lammiman said the initiative "lays the foundation for ... near real time information about local air quality".

The project is run with the help of Mountains community groups, OEH, Blue Mountains and Lithgow councils, Doctors for the Environment, Western Sydney University, Lithgow Environment Group and the local health district. Schools, business and community volunteers are hosting the sensors. The Katoomba station is on property owned by Air Services Australia. In the first few days the readings were either good or very good.

The mid and lower Mountains has been engulfed in a haze of smoke for the past three days, from hazard reductions over the weekend.

Residents were being warned not to enter any closed area or area with fire and to keep windows shut to avoid the after effects from the smoke.

Crews from the National Parks Service, the NSW Rural Fire Service and Fire and Rescue undertook hazard reduction burns from Friday and the burns were still being monitored as we went to press on Tuesday.

Over the weekend the 22 hectare Marges and Elizabeth Lookouts burn affected Mitchells Pass in Blaxland, as well as Surveyor Abbot Drive, Olivet Street and Barnet Street in Glenbrook. And a 26 hectare burn occurred close to Gregg Street, near Lawson's industrial area.

A larger National Parks hazard reduction started on Sunday involving a 3300 hectare burn on Lawson Ridge using fire vehicles in Lawson streets and two helicopters.

A Parks spokesman said smoke may be present for some time afterwards and "may affect mid Mountains townships including Lawson, Hazelbrook and Springwood". Smoke is also covering the Lower Mountains.

"Residents are advised to keep doors and windows closed and avoid the area while the operation is in progress," the spokesman said.

Motorists were warned to observe signs from fire crews. Firefighters will continue to patrol the burn area until it is deemed safe. The burn is part of ongoing fire management to protect assets and property in the Mountains.

A second stage of a burn is planned to continue at Marges/Elizabeth Lookout later this week. Eleven hectares is scheduled for the burn.

A 10 hectare burn, which was set to start on Thursday May 23, near Endeavour Nursing Home on Hawkesbury Rd, Springwood has been postponed for a few days.

The burn will now start on Saturday May 25 due to current conditions and air quality in the Sydney Basin.