A Health Report broadcast aired on ABC Radio National put the impacts of the recent bushfires in Australia into the context of an ongoing issue; the health impacts of air pollution. In the discussion, Norman Swan and Professor Francesca Dominici discussed the implications of a study published in the BMJ and led by a team of researchers and faculty affiliated with the Departments of Biostatistics and Environmental Health, about the hospital admissions risks and costs associated with short term exposure to fine particulate matter.
The study, which used hospital admission information from 95 million Medicare records along with localized air quality monitoring data, has shown that exposure to particulate material is associated with increased hospital admissions for a wider range of medical conditions than are usually blamed on pollution. While the specific disease pathways have yet to be understood, the study indicated that there are huge health related costs associated with tiny increases in particulate matter, including at levels less than those set by current WHO safety standards. These findings suggest that greater efforts must be made to control industrial and environmental sources of fine particulate matter, including wildfires. Moreover, future policy solutions must address the social gradient in exposure, as environmental and climate change related disasters increasingly target the most vulnerable populations.