Big dry means bad air days

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droughtDROUGHT, wind-blown dust and bushfire smoke have emerged as the latest problems for Melbourne's air quality.

Twenty years ago, photochemical smog cooked up from car emissions was the enemy. Now, with tighter emission controls and cleaner fuels, there is a new threat to fresh air.

"In terms of extreme pollution events, in the last few years it's been due to drought-related effects such as wind-blown dust and bushfire smoke," Environment Protection Authority Victoria regional services executive director Bruce Dawson said. "Everyone is on high alert as to this year being a potentially serious bushfire season — we'll make sure people understand there are possible air quality and environmental impacts associated with that."

CSIRO air quality modeller Martin Cope said the environmental effects of wind-blown dust storms, which increased in drought years, included stripping soil off farmable land.

"It's not just that the crops don't grow in any one year due to the drought, it has a longer-term impact on the land," Dr Cope said.

In the short-term, Dr Cope said one of the major effects of a dust storm was poor visibility for commercial aircraft.

The EPA's Mr Dawson, whose authority measures both visibility and fine particles in the air, said Melbourne's overall air quality was good.

Asthma Foundation CEO Robin Ould said the big dry had led to an increase in asthma symptoms.

Ways to clean up

  • Cleaner technology in industry
  • Removing pollutants from car exhaust gases
  • Banning backyard incinerators and open-air burning
  • No open fires for domestic heating.
  • Newer wood heaters.

source - Environment Protection Authority