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Unrelenting bushfires have caused the air quality in Sydney to reach over 12 times what is considered ‘hazardous’ this week. 

In the city’s east and north-west, the air quality index recorded a record rating of 2,214 by 10 a.m. Tuesday. Any figure above 200 PM2.5 — a rating of dangerous fine particulate matter in the air — is considered hazardous, while a rating between 150 and 199 is marked very poor. 

The bushfire smoke has blanketed the city, causing its world-famous landmarks to all but disappear, school children to be kept inside, face masks to become the norm, and ferries and major sports games to be cancelled due to poor visibility.

Similarly, smoke has triggered fire alarms across the city, causing buildings, like the headquarters of the Rural Fire Service and the Sydney Morning Herald, to be evacuated.

New South Wales’ Director of Environment Health Richard Broome said the smoke in Sydney was “unprecedented”. 

"Certainly in Sydney we have experienced very poor air quality episodes in the past, but certainly this smoky period we’ve been experiencing for the past month or so, it is unprecedented, so these conditions are a risk to people’s health,” he said, according to the Guardian. 

Broome warned that health risks are only set to increase as a severe heat wave makes it way to Sydney this week. 

"Hot weather and poor air quality are a recipe for severe illness unless people take simple precautions,” Broome said in a media release. “We are urging people to avoid being outside during the hottest part of the day, to minimise physical activity, to keep well hydrated and reduce their exposure to smoky air.”

Bushfires have now been raging across the state for weeks. 

So far, six people have died and almost 700 homes have been destroyed. On Tuesday, at least 80 fires were ablaze throughout the state. The last three months marked the driest Spring in Australia’s recorded history, which, alongside record-breaking heat, compounded the bushfires, according to the nation’s Bureau of Meteorology. 

The bureau also links the aggression of the fires to global warming from human-driven climate change. 

Over 2.7 million hectares of land have burned. 

To tackle the fires, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a further AUD $11 million would be provided to assist aerial firefighting efforts. Morrison has also deployed the defence force to assist with the response. 

Firefighters from America, Canada, and New Zealand have also flown into Australia to support local firefighters. 


Defend the Planet

Sydney’s Air Quality Is 12 Times Worse Than ‘Hazardous’ Levels

By Madeleine Keck