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A review of approaches to monitoring smoke from vegetation fires for public health

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-17, 03:57 authored by Fay JohnstonFay Johnston, Grant WilliamsonGrant Williamson, David BowmanDavid Bowman
Monitoring the level of pollution generated by both planned and unplanned vegetation fires is a fundamental requirement for assessing human health impacts, informing public health actions, and ensuring that regulatory requirements are met. The issue is of growing importance because of the increasing use of ¡®prescribed burning¡¯ ¨C the planned setting of fires under mild weather conditions to reduce fuel loads and therefore lower fire intensities from unplanned vegetation fires. This practice often causes the pooling of smoke in airsheds and thus conflicts with air quality statutes. In this paper, we review biomass smoke monitoring practices in Australia and North America. In North America, air quality has enormous influence over planned burning and consequently there has been considerable investment and development in the monitoring of smoke emissions from fires. In Australia, the monitoring of particulate pollution has been focused on urban and industrial areas. Samplers used for this purpose may not be appropriate for measuring smoke from bushfires due to long averaging times and non-real-time data reporting. Drawing on North American approaches we suggest that Australian populations in fire prone areas would benefit from improved management of smoke pollution from both planned and unplanned fires by increased use of (a) simple local guidelines based on the visibility of landmarks, (b) portable and mobile samplers with real-time reporting of pollution levels via the internet, and (c) dissemination of smoke forecasts using predictive smoke dispersal modelling. Benefits of more temporally and spatially accurate data include (a) more appropriate tools and greater capacity to support public health responses to pollution episodes, (b) improved monitoring of planned burns, and (c) better validation of predictive dispersion models. Ultimately this will provide an appropriate knowledge-base for the development of prescribed burning policies, guidelines and practices for the overall benefit of public health.


Publication title

Air Quality and Climate Change








Menzies Institute for Medical Research


Clean Air Society of Australia and New Zealand

Place of publication

Olinda, Victoria

Rights statement

Copyright © 2010 RMIT Publishing

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Public health (excl. specific population health) not elsewhere classified

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