23 Jan 2017
November’s tragic thunderstorm asthma event in 2016 was, according to Health Minister Jill Hennessy, “like having 150 bombs go off right across a particular part of Metropolitan Melbourne”.
What is of most significance is that this was, globally, the most catastrophic event of its kind and there was no way to predict its scale.
The importance of air monitoring
Experts in health, weather and botany, as well as the Victorian state government have all declared an intention to research the ways in which they can better predict, and respond to, future events. It is clear that this requires greater knowledge in a range of areas. Medical professionals need to know how best to respond and emergency services need to have optimal ways of communicating essential information, however Acoem Research & Development Manager Grant Kassell realised that, “most people have been talking about health, but not about monitoring”. Air monitoring is essential, as forecasters need to have enough data to fingerprint thunderstorms and predict asthma events. And it is not just potential thunderstorm events that need to be monitored. A recent review by the Department of Environment, quoted in Fairfax Media, outlined that in 2012 1483 premature deaths in Australia alone could be attributed to air pollution. And according to environmental scientists, this number could be as high as 3000 deaths. These numbers have continued to rise; the number of deaths in 2005 was a far lower 882. It is clear that air pollution poses a significant risk to people in Australia, and in particular to residents of large cities. In a country where the majority of the population lives in urban areas, the need for air quality monitoring has never been more apparent