Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand is working with other agencies to assess the public health impacts of dust generated from aiborne silt in Hawke’s Bay.
Medical Officer of Health Dr Bridget Wilson says until more is known from air quality monitoring in affected regions, it is important for people to take precautions during times when dust is a significant issue.
“This is particularly important for the elderly, very young and people with heart or lung conditions.”
People can take measures to reduce the amount of dust they breathe in, she says.
“When outside in dusty areas wear a well-fitting mask (N95/P2) and eye protection, avoid exercising outside, and wash your hands and clothes after being in contact with large quantities of silt. When conditions are very dusty due to high winds stay indoors if possible and close windows.
If you are cleaning up dust inside homes or cars, it is important to do so by wiping down surfaces or vacuuming rather than sweeping which can resuspend dust.”
Dr Wilson says people worried about their symptoms should contact their doctor or Healthline on 0800 611 116.
Te Whatu Ora continues to work with NIWA and Environmental Science and Research (ESR) to better understand any potential health impacts related to reduced air quality.
“The silt testing programme as part of the Hawke’s Bay Silt Recovery Taskforce (a joint partnership between Hastings District Council and Hawke’s Bay Regional Council) has reassuringly indicated that the likelihood of significant contamination of the silt by heavy metals, herbicides, and pesticides is likely to be very low.
“However, the dust itself can still be very irritating to the eyes and upper airways, and for those with underlying heart or lung conditions, like asthma, can worsen their symptoms,” Dr Wilson says.
Te Whatu Ora is continuing to conduct routine surveillance for any increase in respiratory admissions and has not seen a significant increase in respiratory presentations to date.
Regional Council Policy and Regulation Group Manager Katrina Brunton encourages the community to be cautious of operating heavy machinery on windy days.
“If you see heavy machinery being used which is generating significant dust, please report to our pollution hotline on 0800 108 838.”
An interagency group is working together to measure and minimise risk from the increased dust circulating in the air.
The group is aware of the level of concern among communities following the dry windy weather over the weekend which generated dust from the silt deposited during Cyclone Gabrielle.
Representatives from Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand, the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, the Silt Recovery Taskforce, National Institute of Water and Atmosphere (NIWA), WorkSafe and other local councils are co-ordinating their approach to monitor and address the dust when possible.