Right now, more than 5 million Australians are "smoking without consent".


Right now New South Wales is experiencing the longest period of bushfire air pollution on record.

Those that are sick, are struggling to get better.

Our elderly are being forced into hospital beds, and families with asthmatic children are fleeing the state until it clears.

“I’ve had patients come in with nasal symptoms, sinus symptoms and sore throats,” Sydney GP Kim Loo told AAP.

While millions breathe in the after effects, thousands are still dealing with the immediate effects of the fires. Post continues after video.

Video by Channel 9

It’s increasingly difficult to exercise outdoors, and uncomfortable to even be outdoors, because the smoke constricts your breathing. It makes your throat sting. Your eyes water. You can feel it inside you, like a silt has just settled over your organs.

Of course, this is an enviable position compared to the more than 600 Australian families who have lost their homes, and the six people who have lost their lives. It feels almost trivial to address the smoke, a byproduct of raging, dangerous fires, that are threatening entire communities.


But there’s more to the opaque, omnipresent smoke than just discomfort.

When I began to type a sentence into Google this week, it knew exactly what I was asking. I’m not the only one wondering: “Is the bushfire smoke dangerous?”

Short answer: yes.

There are more than 100 bushfires burning across the state right now. New South Wales, in particular Sydney, which is home to more than five million people, has been blanketed in a thick orange fog for weeks.

It feels apocalyptic, terrifying, eerie – like the world is screaming at us: “Can’t you see I’m burning, why aren’t you helping?”

But according to our government, it’s not the time to talk about climate change.

Is this Sydney's new normal? Image: Twitter @melissahenderson.

Pollution levels are monitored by the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment's Air Quality Index. The reading they're concerned about is called PM2.5.

Apparently our levels of that have been considered "hazardous" for weeks.

It takes a reading of 200 to get to that warning level, but parts of Sydney are hitting 600 and 1000.

Talking to the AAP, Dr Loo compares the result to "smoking without consent."

“With fine particulate matter, you are kind of smoking without consent, you have no choice about the quality of air you breathe,” she said.

If we stood outside all day it'd be like smoking 34 cigarettes - and apparently - this is our new normal.


Brisbane has also been copping it, last week their air quality was worse than Beijing. Sydney has been on par with Mumbai several times in the past fortnight.

There's some evidence the smoke can even increase our risk of heart attack.

"These particles can be carried into and through the blood circulation of the body if tiny enough and there’s some evidence they can even affect the nervous and reproductive system," Dr Tom Cole-Hunter from the Centre for Air pollution, energy and heart research told Yahoo. 

So what can we do? What's the answer for the millions of Australians currently breathing in this air?

Cloth or paper face masks are useless, with experts advising that only ones that really work are hardcore P2 masks that have filtering capabilities. They're the ones that are used when people are handling asbestos.

Air filters are another option. But again, it needs to be a hardcore one that filters out particles.

Red sun bushfire
It's like the planet is screaming at us. Sydney has had a red sun for weeks. Image: Matt King/Getty Images.

Experts say there's only one immediate thing we can do - stay indoors. Limit exposure. Wait it out.

But if this is our new normal, what does that mean for our future?

Surely there couldn't be a clearer indication that it's time to act.

Feature image: A golf marshal wears a face mask as smoke haze lingers during day one of the 2019 Australian Golf Open yesterday. Image: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images.