Upper Hunter doctors are bracing for an influx of patients with respiratory-related illnesses in the next week following a significant decline in air quality on the weekend.
Strong north easterly winds stirred up tonnes of dust from the barren mine sites across the region.
Thirteen of the 14 air quality monitors in the Upper Hunter air quality monitoring network recorded hazardous levels of coarse particle pollution (PM10) late on Sunday night.
“It usually takes a couple of days but we usually see an increase in people with airway irritations like sinusitis and asthma when the air quality gets bad,” Singleton GP Bob Vickers said.
“I drove into town today and there was an awful brown haze hanging in the air.”
The Upper Hunter has had a higher proportion of people suffering from respiratory illnesses than elsewhere in the state for more than a decade.
“It’s not unusual for someone’s symptoms to disappear when they stay on the coast for a week,” Dr Vickers said.
The air pollution spike comes a week after the Doctors for the Environment Group issued a report that showed coarse particle pollution had worsened in many parts of NSW over the past 12 months, including the Hunter Valley.
The study’s findings show the average value for fine particles across comparable monitors rose from 7.51 micrograms per cubic metre in 2017 to 7.98 micrograms per cubic meter in 2018. This is moving away from the stated national objective that all sites should be below 7 micrograms per cubic metre by 2025.
Coarse particles also exceeded the annual standard at nine locations, up from two locations in 2017 and none in previous years. All but one of these locations are in the Hunter Region. These sites include Singleton North West, Muswellbrook, Mayfield and Wagga Wagga North.
The Newcastle Herald reported in June last year that residents living in Camberwell, which is located near eight mines, were considering abandoning their homes because of poor air quality.
The village’s air quality monitoring station recorded 126 exceedances of national air quality standards for coarse particle pollution (PM10) between 2011 and 2017.
The Office of Heritage and Environment said last week that high levels of particulate matter was the result of an increase in broad-scale dust storms from drought-affected areas and smoke from wild fires and hazard reduction burns.
A spokeswoman said the state’s air quality for the last 15-20 years has been improving until the current drought.