As the skies fill with smoke from stubble burning, asthma sufferers in Griffith are feeling the pinch.
MIA residents Nicole Portolesi and her son Reuben are both asthmatics, and their life is controlled by the smoke in the air.
“I can’t send my son to school He was home probably three days in the last week or so because of the burning off, it’s very very concerning,” Mrs Portolesi said.
“I have had a few scares myself, but we are super vigilant and make sure he stays home and inside.”
Being a chronic asthmatic, she can find herself on a nebuliser several times a day to stave off a severe attack, and says if there was a warning system in place for residents it would give her peace of mind.
“Even if it is a random text to say they are burning off at certain parts, or something that lets us know it’s going to happen so I can be prepared.”
Stubble burning has also caused some havoc on MIA roads, with a multi-car accident occurring at the beginning of April.
A burn-off gone wrong sent smoke over the road near Bilbul about 10km outside of Griffith, which police allege was caused by visibility issues from the smoke.
The Rice Growers Association (RGA) have since taken steps to organise management of these kinds of issues, and while acknowledges weather can change, are trying to implement road signage to prevent further accidents. See story below for RGA’s campaign.
Griffith City Council Mayor John Dal Broi has joined RGA and the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to appeal to local rice growers to carry out best practice stubble burning.
“I’d urge farmers to keep a close eye on what the weather is doing. They need to look at the speed and direction the wind is blowing as well as the humidity,” Cr Dal Broi said.
“We have seen a lot more smoke around this year because it’s been so dry. Most farmers are doing the right thing. Occasionally we get those who aren’t.”
Asthma Australia has information on their website about asthma and smoke from bushfires and planned burns here.
CEO of Asthma Australia Michele Goldman advised people from Griffith and the MIA to stay on top of asthma all year round.
“As well as minimising your exposure to smoke, it’s vital that people with asthma are prepared by keeping up with asthma management year round. This helps to reduce the risk of an asthma flare up when triggers such as smoke and pollen are in the air and people may be caught unawares.”
Best Practice Campaign
As people across the MIA lock their doors and windows, the Rice Growers Association (RGA) embark on a campaign to promote the best burning practices.
The campaign aims to work with irrigation farmers to prevent asthma attacks and visibility issues on MIA roads.
RGA’s Environment Projects Officer Neil Bull who covers both the Murray and the MIA districts, says they are currently working on a major campaign in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS), Griffith and Leeton Shire Councils as well as with irrigation farmers to promote proper burning practices.
The RGA is aware of poor practice being implemented by some irrigation farmers, and are very concerned about the impact on the community and people’s health in general.
“Where I can receive names of these farmers and/or farm managers, I have an arrangement with Craig Bretherton Manager Regional Operations NSW EPA to jointly visit these people to remind them of the consequences if their poor practice continues.”
By emailing press releases, grower updates, newsletters and investing in radio advertisements the RGA are targeting those still not following correct burning procedures.
“We are also developing a stubble burning app to guide farmers when or when not to burn stubble,” Mr Bull said.
One of the RGA’s and EPA’s key initiatives this year was a recommendation for farmers to avoid stubble burning during the public holidays in Autumn.
Other activities planned include the installation of road-side signs with best practice messages.
The law requires farmers wishing to burn to contact both the RFS and neighbours to notify them beforehand.
For more information on best practices, head to the RGA website here.