Epidemiological studies of exposure to vegetation fire smoke are often limited by the availability of accurate exposure data. This paper describes a systematic framework for retrospectively identifying the cause of air pollution events to facilitate a long, multicenter analysis of the public health effects of vegetation fire smoke pollution in Australia. Pollution events were statistically defined as any day at or above the 95th percentile of the 24-hr average concentration of particulate matter (PM). These were identified for six cities from three distinct ecoclimatic regions of Australia. The dates of each event were then crosschecked against a range of information sources, including online newspaper archives, government and research agency records, satellite imagery, and aerosol optical thickness measures to identify the cause for the excess particulate pollution. Pollution events occurred most frequently during summer for cities in sub-tropical and arid regions and during winter for cities in temperate regions. A cause for high PM on 67% of days examined in the city of Sydney was found, and 94% of these could be attributed to landscape fire smoke. Results were similar for cities in other subtropical and arid locations. Identification of the cause of pollution events was much lower in colder temperate regions where fire activity is less frequent. Bushfires were the most frequent cause of extreme pollution events in cities located in subtropical and arid regions of Australia. Although identification of pollution episodes was greatly improved by the use of multiple sources of information, satellite imagery was the most useful tool for identifying bushfire smoke pollution events.
Johnston, F., Hanigan, I., Henderson, S., Morgan, G., Portner, T., Williamson, G., & Bowman, D. (2011). Creating an Integrated Historical Record of Extreme Particulate Air Pollution Events in Australian Cities from 1994 to 2007. Air Waste Management Association. Journal, 61(4), 390-398. https://doi.org/10.3155/1047-32184.108.40.2060