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Do You Live Near Australia's Most Polluted Cities?

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When you think of the great outdoors, you may think about beautiful trees and clean, pure air. Your parents may have encouraged you to spend more time outside to enjoy the fresh air, and you subsequently may tell your children to do the same.

But before you feel too nostalgic about sunny-day adventures in the yard or garden, keep in mind that Australia's air might not be as clean, pure or healthy as you might think.

Statistics estimate over 2,000 Australians die every year due to air pollution, and this number is on the rise. Residents in Perth, Sydney and Melbourne tend to have a decreased life expectancy because of the poor air quality. And these major capital cities don't even see the worst air in the country.

If you live in (or near) any of the following cities, take caution whenever you plan outdoor activities.

1. Port Hedland

Port Hedland features large, iron export ports. As a result, Port Hedland has high concentrations of iron ore particles mixed with urban emissions. The area regularly exceeds national standards, and the city sees 30% more hospitalisations due to respiratory conditions.  

Because of the rising health risk, the Port Hedland council has launched an Air Quality Control Working Group to provide practical measures for improving air quality and minimising pollution. Similarly, SRA Information Technology is working with the Port Hedland Industries council to closely monitor dust emissions and promote proper ore handling practices.    

2. Mount Isa

Mount Isa is primarily a mining and smelting community that handles copper, lead and zinc. Like Port Hedland, this city sees more mineral particles than many other locations throughout Australia. Consequently, children who live in Mount Isa's mining towns breathe high amounts of pollutants, which in turn increase their likelihood for developmental disorders and respiratory illnesses.

Fortunately, Mount Isa residents are taking action to clear the air. In fact, they have one of the most intensive monitoring systems in Australia. The Air Quality Control relies on real-time air quality data to observe weather patterns that affect emissions. The AQC can then use this data to alert residents and adjust smelting operations.

3. Gladstone

Gladstone has a mix of industries that contributes to its air pollution: coal operations, aluminium smelting and chemical manufacturing. This accumulation of harmful dust particles, in addition to car emissions, has led to an increase in asthma, allergies and similar symptoms.  

To counter the problem, the government created the Clean and Healthy Air for Gladstone project. This project assessed the effect of air emissions on health, expanded the air monitoring program and increased public awareness about the problem.

4. Brisbane

Brisbane sees a lot of coal trains that worsen the air quality. However, the coal isn't the primary pollutant. Because Brisbane sits in the middle of South East Queensland airshed, the mountains trap particles from vehicle emissions, bushfires, burning vegetation and domestic heating in the air until strong winds or rain can clear it away.

Fortunately, Brisbane City Council has made it a goal to become the cleanest capital city in Australia. They've designed a Clean Air Strategy that includes clean alternative travel options, air-friendly vehicles and stricter regulations for industries and home heating.

What Should You Do?

Although each city has a plan in place for improving the air quality, these areas still have a long way to go before you'll see notable improvements. And unfortunately, even the smallest amounts of air pollution pose a health risk for you and your family.

To keep exposure to a minimum, take a look at EPA's real-time air-quality data for your city. The graph can let you know when air pollution reaches dangerous levels so you can limit your outdoor exposure accordingly.

On high-pollution days, you should spend more time indoors and make sure your HVAC system has a clean air filter. If you or a family member has a chronic respiratory condition, consider investing in an air purifier to create a clean, safe environment.