Dust hits Sydney: How to prepare and stay safe


You can be tempted to go out and take pictures of the powerful sandstorm that is passing through Sydney and the surrounding area today, but the authorities have called on NSW residents to take precautions because the peaks early in the afternoon.

When the storm bounces in a few hours, the authorities warn that "small particles" pose a threat to the health of residents – potentially causing itching or burning of the eyes, irritation of the throat, runny nose and diseases such as bronchitis.

When in 2009, Sydney came as a result of a major sandstorm, SES received more than 150 calls to help, mainly from people with breathing problems.

NSW Health warns that Sydney's air quality may be poor today and probably reach Friday.

Director of Environmental Health Dr. Richard Broome said that this is especially important for children, the elderly and people with chronic respiratory and cardiovascular diseases such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and heart disease to reduce the time spent on outside and not engage in intense exercise during a dust storm.

The NSW Sports Institute advised coaches and athletes to reconsider conducting outdoor training in Sydney today.

"If possible, stay in air-conditioned rooms where filtration systems can help reduce dust particles in the air," says Dr. Broome.

"Dust can worsen existing heart and lung conditions and cause symptoms such as eye irritation and cough.

"Symptoms may appear for a few days after inhaling dust, so people with chronic medical conditions must be vigilant in their treatment programs."

Visibility also deteriorates very quickly during a sandstorm.

NSW Health claims that if you are on the road and your ability to drive safely is limited by poor visibility, reduce your speed. Prepare to get out of the way if the visibility deteriorates to less than 100m. If your car is air conditioned, reduce the amount of dust entering the car by switching the air inlet to the recirculation setting.

He added that people with asthma or lung condition who developed symptoms such as dyspnoea, coughing or wheezing should follow an asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) plan.

"If symptoms do not calm down, seek medical advice. If you are using oxygen therapy at home, continue as directed and if your breathlessness worsens, contact your doctor," he said.

"Healthy adults can also feel the effects of small particles that can irritate the lungs, so it is more reasonable to switch or cut off long-lasting or arduous outdoor activities when the dust levels are high."

Dust particles differ in size from coarse (insensitive), to delicate (inhalation), to very thin (respirable).

According to NSW Health, coarse dust particles only reach into the inside of the nose, mouth or throat.

Smaller or small particles, however, can get much deeper into sensitive areas of the airways and lungs. These smaller dust particles have more potential to seriously damage health.

"Usually particles in dust storms appear to be rough or undesirable and do not pose a serious threat to public health," reads NSW Health's website. "However, some people with existing breathing problems, such as asthma and emphysema, may experience difficulties."

When the last major sandstorm hit Sydney in 2009, it also created headaches for the fire brigade, with a large number of false alarms caused by dust.

Superintendent Warwick Kidd said the crew in Sydney had more than 500 calls at the time.

For more information, visit the NSW Health website


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