The NSW Department of Planning and Environment and NSW Health have created air quality categories to guide you on what activities you can do, based on what the air quality is like in your area.
Air pollution has a significant impact on human health and the economy. Air quality in New South Wales is usually very good by international standards, however it is important to protect your health when air quality is poor by modifying your activities.
Air quality measurements from your local monitoring station is summarised using 5 air quality categories (AQC), rating air quality as 'Good', 'Fair', 'Poor', 'Very Poor' or 'Extremely Poor'. For example, if your local air quality category is ‘Very Poor’ (red), you can look at the health advice in the activity guide to understand how this might affect your health and recommended actions to take. The activity guide is included in an accordion on this page and also on the department's environment website.
To understand how the activity guide relates to measured concentrations of air pollutants, the table below includes information on threshold concentrations used for categorising air quality into the 5 air quality categories. Note that air quality categorisation is no longer defined from Air Quality Index (AQI) values.
Go with the colours to protect your health
The 5 air quality categories, represented by the 5 colours, scale air pollution concentration data in a way that helps us understand how clean or polluted the air is. By following the colours as described in the activity guide (below), you will be able to understand how current air quality might affect your health.
The air quality categories are updated hourly, based on air pollutant measurements of:
- carbon monoxide
- sulfur dioxide
- nitrogen dioxide
- airborne particles (such as PM10, PM2.5)
Visibility is a good indicator for smoke. While visibility is affected by dust, the instrument (a nephelometer or neph) is more sensitive to smoke.
The activity guide below has been derived by categorising air quality into colour indicators, based on threshold values for air pollutants’ concentrations and visibility data. Go with the colours and follow the recommended actions to protect your health.
Air quality category
General health advice and recommended actions
Sensitive groups including:
Steps to reduce risk from bushfire smoke
When it’s smoky, everyone should:
- Follow your doctor’s advice about medicines and your asthma management plan if you have one. Keep your medication close at hand. Consult your doctor if symptoms worsen.
- Reduce or avoid vigorous outdoor activity see activity guide below.
- Spend more time indoors. Keep doors and windows shut to keep the smoke out. Open windows and doors whenever the smoke clears.
- Spend time in air conditioned venues like cinemas, libraries and shopping centres.
- Avoid indoor sources of air pollution like cigarettes, candles and incense sticks.
If your child has diagnosed asthma:
- Have an up to date Asthma Action Plan. Seek review with your child’s GP to assess their current asthma management.
- Check your child’s reliever medication and spacer is up-to-date and accessible by a responsible adult.
- Provide written asthma first aid instructions, completed by your child’s GP, to their preschool, childcare centre or school.
- Visit the Sydney Children’s Hospital Network’s Aiming for Asthma Improvement in Children website which includes a Good asthma control checklist.
- Free asthma helpline: If you need information specific to people with asthma, visit the Asthma Australia website to access their free helpline.
Information for sensitive groups
Some people may be more sensitive to air pollution. Sensitive groups include people with lung disease or heart disease, children, older adults, pregnant women.
If you need information specific to people with asthma, visit the Asthma Australia website to access their free helpline.
Anyone with persistent symptoms should seek medical advice or call Health Direct Australia on 1800 022 222.
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