Spatio-temporal analysis using earth observation data to identify adverse health effect and location correlations of landscape fire in the Perth metropolitan area of Western Australia.
Landscape fires (LFs) include wildfires (WFs) and prescribed/planned burns (PBs) and are defined as fires that occur in forest, scrub, or grassland (bushfires). These fires are a significant source of short-term increases in particulate air pollution. However, there is limited information on the health effects of LF smoke on the general population in Western Australia. Studies of health effects of LFs have used a variety of population exposure methods, most of which are limited. Methods to more precisely estimate exposure to LF effects, as well as gain an understanding of the spatio-temporal variations associated with LF effects, are needed in order to accurately correlate such events with health outcomes. This was the first WA study that employed spatio-temporal analysis and earth observation data to explore population smoke exposure and examine the effects of LFs on a large population.
This project had to main objectives which were to:
- Explore and improve methods to measure population landscape fire smoke exposure using satellite imagery
- Measure the impact of landscape fires on the general population, including the identification of vulnerable groups.
The project partners were the Western Australian Department of Health (DOHWA), Curtin University (Curtin), NGIS, Bureau of Meteorology (BOM WA Office), the Western Australian Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, Parks and Wildfire Service (DBCA).
The study area covered the whole Perth metropolitan area and the data used for the study were from July 2015 to December 2017. The statistical, epidemiological and spatial analyses were conducted in four steps:
- Identify smoke exposure – Analyse satellite images to identify smoke plume masks and affected areas
- Establish empirical smoke exposure models
- Conduct air quality relationship model fitting/validation assessment by linking earth observation data to air quality and climate data
- Conduct a relationship assessment between landscape fire smoke related particulate matter and health utilisation data (i.e. Hospital admissions, emergency department attendance and ambulance callouts).
The study area covered the whole Perth metropolitan area and the data used for the study were from July 2015 to December 2017. The statistical, epidemiological and spatial analyses were conducted in four steps, with the key findings categorised in association with the four steps;
- Analyse images to identify smoke plume masks and affected areas
- Establish empirical smoke exposure models
- Conduct air quality relationship model fitting/validation assessment
- Conduct LF smoke related particulate matter and health utilisation relationship assessment
Based on the study findings, seven recommendations were made in two categories;
- Policy makers and health professionals should initiate and enhance community education programs on the harms caused by landscape fires.
- Health education programs should be developed.
- Elderly people, children and populations with lower socio-economic backgrounds should be made aware of the effects of air pollution.
- Resources should be increased to establish more air quality stations than the current number.
- Technical recommendations
- Regular and real time capturing of landscape fire data should be implemented.
- Spatial services could assist with mapping smoke plumes and at-risk populations.
- Mobile apps such as AirRater or mobile messaging services such as asthma alert that are being developed in WA may incorporate LF data so that LF exposed vulnerable populations can be informed and preventative measures can be taken in a timely manner.
The findings of this project provided an evidence base to:
- Inform policy development in reducing and/or eliminating the impacts of LFs including PBs as per the four policy recommendations above
- Form part of DBCA and other government risk/benefit decision making as to whether to proceed with particular burns or prescribed burning overall
- Assist health service planning in the event of LFs in particular PBs
- Develop appropriate and informed health promotion strategies for the general population, particularly vulnerable populations, and patients with certain chronic conditions, with respect to LFs
In addition, the findings and spatio-temporal exposure models from the project can be used to inform the design of a second stage project which could develop spatial applications based on smoke plumes and their trajectories and other environmental, weather and climate measures to inform health promotion planners, health services, clinicians, patients and the public before the planned PB events and after uncontrolled LF events.
- Both reports and the bulletin can be directly accessed via the following link: https://ww2.health.wa.gov.au/Reports-and-publications/Earth-Wind-and-Fire-Health-effects-of-landscape-fire-smoke
- Published paper: Exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) during landscape fire events and the risk of cardiorespiratory emergency department attendances: a time-series study in Perth, Western Australia