Public health impact of wind erosion

Tuesday, 11 July, 2000

A CSIRO study estimates that wind erosion may be costing South Australians as much as $23 million a year by impacting health, industry, infrastructure and households.

Researchers at the CSIRO's Land and Water's Policy and Economic Research Unit indicated that there may be a case for public investment to reduce or prevent wind erosion in the State's rural areas. This depends on assumptions about the link between wind erosion and asthma.

The study findings may apply in other States and Territories of Australia and to other countries with similar dusty conditions.

The team has combined information from the USA with other states, to assess the cost of wind erosion to people living in South Australia. While severe dust storms are rare, occurring on average about once in ten years over Adelaide and much of the State, the city experiences about 8.5 days a year when dust may be sufficient to aggravate asthma attacks.

There has been no research on the question of whether or not dust causes asthma, but researchers have results from a series of Queensland surveys. These studies suggest the cost of dust related asthma at between $10 and $50 million a year, chiefly lost in absenteeism from work and school.

The study estimates costs for a typical year using data from many sources including the State's transport and power infrastructure. Based on the last four major dust storms, it is estimated there was an extra 12 motor accidents due to poor visibility. Dust storms also affected roads and involved councils in extra repair and maintenance removing drifts. The Electricity Trust needed to clean transformers after severe dust storms due to the risk of power leakage and failures. The aviation industry also found it necessary to divert flights because dust obscured the runway. The greatest cost was to householders involved in extra maintenance and clean-up.

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