Brought to you by Newscorp Australia

Sydney’s air quality hazardous as bushfires continue

Andrew Backhouse, November 19, 2019 7:00PM

Print Article

A smoke haze is seen blanketing the Parramatta River, near Rhodes, in Sydney, NSW, Tuesday, November 19, 2019. Picture: AAP media_cameraA smoke haze is seen blanketing the Parramatta River, near Rhodes, in Sydney, NSW, Tuesday, November 19, 2019. Picture: AAP


Reading level: green

People in Sydney are being warned to stay inside due to “hazardous*” air quality.

The city has been blanketed* in smoke from a large fire burning northwest of Sydney. The NSW Rural Fire Service said smoke from an enormous bush fire burning in the Gospers Mountain was being blown across much of Sydney.

The RFS said the smoke would start to clear as the day warmed up on Tuesday and winds increased.

“However due to north westerly winds smoke from this fire is likely to affect Sydney over the coming days,” the RFS said in a statement.

A poor air quality alert has been issued by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment due to elevated particle* (PM2.5) levels in Sydney.

At 9am on Tuesday the reading stood at 2334 in Sydney’s North-West — almost 20 times worse than Jakarta in Indonesia and Beijing in China.

media_cameraThick smoke blankets Sydney Harbour and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Picture: AAP

The dangerously high reading makes the city’s air quality the worst in the world and twice as bad as Kolkata, India, which today sits at 999, according to the World’s Air Pollution: Real-time Air Quality Index.

As bushfires continue to burn across NSW and Queensland and with other states preparing for increased fire risk in coming days, it’s important we all know how and why we should avoid breathing in smoke.

Residents are advised to stay indoors, with windows and doors closed, or stay in airconditioned buildings, if possible.

Avoid vigorous* exercise, especially if you have asthma or a lung condition.

Cover your nose and mouth with a mask designed to filter fine particles. Use a mask rated either P1 or P2. These are available from hardware stores.

P2 masks are more effective in blocking the finest particles, however any mask has to be worn correctly over the nose and mouth to protect you.

media_cameraPeople are seen wearing face masks in Sydney, Tuesday, November 19, 2019 as thick smoke from bushfires reduces air quality. Picture: AAP

Smoke from bushfires is a mix of solid particles, water vapour and toxic* gases such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

Smoke can irritate your eyes, nose and throat.

When you breathe in, small particles and toxic gases can go deep into your lungs.

If you have asthma or heart or lung problems, smoke can make these conditions worse.

Even if you are healthy, breathing in smoke irritates your airways and lungs, causing you to cough, have a sore throat or a hoarse voice.

Aside from the discomfort* of a cough or sore throat, smoke inhalation* can lead to a medical emergency.

Inhaled smoke causes the lining of airways and lungs to swell. The swelling reduces the amount of oxygen you are able to take into your bloodstream.

If you are not able to take in enough oxygen, you could get a headache or feel faint or get chest pains because there is not enough oxygen getting to the heart.

If you or someone you are with is having trouble breathing or feeling faint, tell an adult and call 000 for an ambulance.


  • hazardous: dangerous
  • blanketed: as if covered by a blanket of something
  • particle: tiny piece
  • vigorous: strenuous, energetic
  • toxic: poisonous
  • discomfort: slight pain or feeling uncomfortable
  • inhalation: the act of breathing in or inhaling


World Environment Day: reasons to care about air

Volcanic eruptions spew ash into stratosphere

Mega dust storm 500km long blankets Sydney

Australian ‘outback air’ for sale


  1. Is a particle level reading of 2334 high or low and good or bad?
  2. List three things you can do to avoid breathing in smoke if there is a lot where you live.
  3. What is in smoke from bushfires?
  4. What does smoke do to the lining of your lungs and airways? Why is this a problem?
  5. What number do you use to call an ambulance if there is an emergency?


1. Human body diagram
Draw an outline of a human body and sketch within it all the parts of the body affected by the dangerous air quality in Sydney due to the bushfires. Explain the hazards and the parts of the body they affect by having arrows coming from that part of the body with a short written explanation.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Visual Arts

2. Extension
What should schools in Sydney do to protect their students while the air quality is this poor? How would you need to adjust your activities or lifestyle if the air quality remained this poor for a week or more?

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and creative thinking

With a partner see if you can identify all the doing words/verbs in this text. Highlight them in yellow and then make a list of them all down your page. Now see if you and your partner can come up with a synonym for the chosen verb. Make sure it still makes sense in the context it was taken from.

Try to replace some of the original verbs with your synonyms and discuss if any are better and why.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Is there smoke in the air near you? Have you experienced any health problems from smoke now or in the past?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

Extra Reading in health