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Open Access Research

Health effects of the September 2009 dust storm in Sydney, Australia: did emergency department visits and hospital admissions increase?

Alistair Merrifield1*, Suzanne Schindeler1, Bin Jalaludin23 and Wayne Smith4

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Epidemiology and Evidence, New South Wales Ministry of Health, Sydney, Australia

2 Centre for Research, Evidence Management and Surveillance, Sydney South West Area Health Service, Sydney, Australia

3 School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

4 Environmental Health Branch, New South Wales Ministry of Health, Sydney, Australia

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Environmental Health 2013, 12:32  doi:10.1186/1476-069X-12-32

Published: 16 April 2013

Abstract

Background

During September 2009, a large dust storm was experienced in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Extremely high levels of particulate matter were recorded, with daily average levels of coarse matter (<10 μm) peaking over 11,000 μg/m3 and fine (<2.5 μm) over 1,600 μg/m3. We conducted an analysis to determine whether the dust storm was associated with increases in all-cause, cardiovascular, respiratory and asthma-related emergency department presentations and hospital admissions.

Methods

We used distributed-lag Poisson generalized models to analyse the emergency department presentations and hospital admissions adjusted for pollutants, humidity, temperature and day of week and seasonal effects to obtain estimates of relative risks associated with the dust storm.

Results

The dust storm period was associated with large increases in asthma emergency department visits (relative risk 1.23, 95% confidence interval 1.10-1.38, p < 0.01), and to a lesser extent, all emergency department visits (relative risk 1.04, 95% confidence interval 1.03-1.06, p < 0.01) and respiratory emergency department visits (relative risk 1.20, 95% confidence interval 1.15-1.26, p < 0.01). There was no significant increase in cardiovascular emergency department visits (p = 0.09) or hospital admissions for any reason. Age-specific analyses showed the dust storm was associated with increases in all-cause and respiratory emergency department visits in the ≥65 year age group; the ≤5 year group had higher risks of all-cause, respiratory and asthma-related emergency department presentations.

Conclusions

We recommend public health measures, especially targeting asthmatics, should be implemented during future dust storm events.

Keywords:
Air pollution; Emergency department; Hospital admissions; Dust storm; Distributed-lag