Australia Bushfire Smoke Killed 12.6x More People Than Fires, Study Finds
The Australian wildfires that burned for five months and destroyed millions of acres also killed 33 people. However, the smoke from the fires killed 12.6 times as many people. New research has shown that smoke from the fires killed 417 people and caused thousands of hospitalizations between October and February, as CBS News reported.
The study was published in the Medical Journal of Australia. The research team, led by Fay Johnston at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, collected data on deaths, hospitalizations and emergency room visits. They then took that data and created a comprehensive map that pinpointed exactly how spikes in air pollution levels linked to increases in hospital visits, according to Nature.
"The fires were unprecedented in Australia's history, in terms of vast amounts of smoke, the huge populations affected by the smoke and the long duration," Johnston said, as The Guardian reported.
The wildfires caused Australia's air quality to plummet. Sydney experienced 81 days of poor or hazardous quality in 2019, more than the last 10 years combined. The capital, Canberra, at one point during the fires, had the world's worst air quality. In January, tennis players at the Australian Open in Melbourne complained that the smoke from the nearby fires hurt their lungs.
"When you're affecting millions of people in a small way, there are going to be enough people at high enough risk that you're going to see really measurable rises in these health effects," Johnston said to The Guardian.
The data that Johnston and her team collected found that the smoke accounted for 1,124 cardiovascular-related hospital admissions, 2,027 respiratory-related hospital admissions, and 1,305 asthma-related emergency room admissions, according to CBS News.
"In terms of the extent and duration of the fires, and pollution in the air, this is off the chart for a single summer fire season," said Johnson, as Nature reported.
The research focused on the four areas in the eastern part of Australia that were hit hardest by the wildfires: Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Australian Capital Territory. The state of New South Wales, which was most affected by the Australian wildfires, saw thousands of people forced to evacuate their homes and more than an estimated 800 million animals killed, as CBS News reported.
Guy Mark, an epidemiologist who studies respiratory diseases at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia who was not involved in the study, told Nature that research that focuses on the unseen impacts of smoke and air pollution is vital to understanding the fires' impacts.
"These deaths and hospitalizations would not have been recognized as being attributable to the fires and smoke at the time they occurred. Hence, they tend to have less attention paid to them," Marks said.
Johnston told The Guardian that any of the deaths and hospitalizations were likely elderly people with an existing pulmonary health condition like heart disease or lung problems, such as chronic bronchitis or emphysema. She added that severe asthma attacks would account for deaths in younger people.
Marks added that he would like to see long-term research that focused on the effects on newborn babies and pregnant women were exposed to hazardous air quality during the fires, as The Guardian reported.
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By Brett Wilkins
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the meatpacking industry worked together to downplay and disregard risks to worker health during the Covid-19 pandemic, as shown in documents published Monday by Public Citizen and American Oversight.
<div id="13077" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="11b9fe5ff48ebc437353df6df9c2c892"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1305915938148147205" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Just a week before the Trump administration issued an executive order aimed at keeping meat packing plants open, th… https://t.co/DkbXgPm4YR</div> — ProPublica (@ProPublica)<a href="https://twitter.com/propublica/statuses/1305915938148147205">1600189597.0</a></blockquote></div>
<div id="36e4c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e7c8048c2755109629a3b3072fcb3261"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1304424041814593539" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Meatpacking union @UFCW, which reps workers at this plant (four of whom died), slams OSHA for the small $13k fine a… https://t.co/tnhfKd89ab</div> — Dave Jamieson (@Dave Jamieson)<a href="https://twitter.com/jamieson/statuses/1304424041814593539">1599833901.0</a></blockquote></div><p>The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union, which represents Smithfield Foods workers, <a href="https://www.argusleader.com/story/news/crime/2020/09/10/osha-fines-smithfield-foods-sioux-falls-south-dakota/5768786002/?eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=f7bf3f03-ce98-4df4-9c45-f44d9a6a5890" target="_blank">slammed</a> the fine as "insulting and a slap on the wrist."</p><p>"How much is the health, safety, and life of an essential worker worth? Based on the actions of the Trump administration, clearly not much," said UFCW president Marc Perrone.</p><p>"This so-called 'fine' is a slap on the wrist for Smithfield, and a slap in the face of the thousands of American meatpacking workers who have been putting their lives on the line to help feed America since the beginning of this pandemic," Perrone added. </p><p>Other critics, including vegans, vegetarians, and animal rights and environmental advocates argued that the accelerated spread of Covid-19 from meatpacking facilities is but the latest compelling argument in favor of reducing—or eliminating—meat consumption.</p><p>"We know that Covid-19 originated in a meat market and that previous influenza viruses originated in pigs and chickens," People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) <a href="https://www.peta.org/blog/meat-shortage-slaugherhouses-go-vegan/" target="_blank">said</a> in April amid news that a Foster Farms slaughterhouse in Livingston, California was <a href="https://www.peta.org/blog/coronavirus-covid-19-slaughterhouse-meat-concerns/?utm_source=PETA::Twitter&utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=0420::veg::PETA::Twitter::Workers%20Blame%20Major%20Pig%20Slaughterhouse%20600%20Infected%20COVID-19::::tweet" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ordered closed</a> by local health authorities due to a Covid-19 outbreak that killed eight employees.</p>
<div id="28490" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="48ddd3480a2beb42597d9516ef652f0f"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1252416495990140929" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">THIS IS OUTRAGEOUS! @SmithfieldFoods allegedly took NO PRECAUTIONS to protect the safety of its workers, leaving o… https://t.co/viAJ026pLy</div> — PETA (@PETA)<a href="https://twitter.com/peta/statuses/1252416495990140929">1587434336.0</a></blockquote></div><p>"It's not a matter of <em>whether</em> using and killing animals for food will give rise to another disease outbreak—it's a matter of <em>when</em>," said PETA. "There has never been a better, more obvious time for businesses to put an end to their dirty trade of slaughtering animals for their flesh." </p>
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