Fine dust health check appeal issued

A pulmonary specialist has highlighted high fine dust rates’ negative effects on humans’ physical condition.

Sylvia Hartl told the Salzburger Nachrichten newspaper today (Thurs) physically robust people would have less difficulties coping with the situation in eastern Austria’s industrial areas like Graz and Vienna these days. However, the expert warned that those who felt burning pain in their eyes and throats while their families or workmates showed no such symptoms should see a doctor.

The highest amounts of particulate matter in the air are normally estimated in autumn and winter. Eastern Austria looks back on five days on which limits were surpassed in several regions including Vienna and Graz, the capital of Styria. The situation is set to remain critical as a significant change in weather is not in sight. The upcoming days will also be cool and foggy with barely any wind and no rainfall, according to meteorologists. Such conditions are an ideal setting for high volumes of fine dust in the air.

The term fine dust describes the smallest matters of outdoor and indoor dust. It is created by coal and wood heating systems but also cigarettes. Doctors explained that rooms with no air circulation but intense smoking were the least favourable place humans should be if they wanted to avoid a negative impact of fine dust on their health.

People subjected to large amounts of particulate matter are under greater risk of suffering cardiac arrest, asthmatic attacks and breathing difficulties. Kids growing up in regions exposed to high volumes of fine dust show deficits in the development of their lungs’ size. Fine dust reaches the smallest branches of the human lungs whereas most larger particles are blocked from entering the body by the mucous membrane.

Around 65,000 people die in the European Union (EU) due to fine dust, according to research. Health experts assigned by the EU to investigate the problem found that exaggerated fine dust levels shorten people’s lives by 8.6 months. Austrian medics said in 2004 that people living in Graz could be affected worst as their life expectancy was reduced by 17 months. People in Linz, which is currently registering high fine dust rates, are confronted with a decrease of 14 months. Residents of Vienna are also severely affected. Fine dust limits their lifetime by 11 months on average.

People residing in densely populated regions of eastern Austria with breathing problems and weak immune systems should abstain from doing sports outdoors, doctors told newspapers and radio stations today. The EU limit of 50 micrograms of fine dust matter per cubic metre has not been broken since Sunday in Vienna except at one checkpoint. However, excessive volumes have been recorded in the city on 61 days so far this year.

Some lawmakers consider higher public subsidies for the acquisition of eco-friendly residential heating systems to combat the increase of days with alarmingly high fine dust figures. However, no federal or provincial decision-maker suggested the introduction of areas where motorised traffic could be prohibited in case of health-affecting fine dust volumes. The general accord of refusing to introduce such restrictions is widely seen as politicians’ fears from angering the country’s immensely influential car clubs like ÖAMTC and Arbö. The organisations recently denied that the current situation was mainly drivers’ fault.

Vienna’s Social Democratic (SPÖ) Environment Councillor told Die Presse today she expected Greens Vice Mayor Maria Vassilakou to press on with setting up more 30 kilometre per hour (kph) limit areas in the city. Traffic researchers are at odds whether going at 30 kph instead of 50 kph would help to lower fine dust rates. There is no agreement either on whether such a reduction could be of help in attempts to slash greenhouse gas emission levels – which have been on the rise in Austria in past months as the country’s industry is recovering from the financial crisis of 2009.