AS bushfires threaten lives and property north of the region, much of the Hunter has found itself wreathed in smoke during recent weeks. That has coincided with hazardous ratings for air in Newcastle, Wallsend and Beresfield. Only Armidale rated worse on the same day those readings were recorded.
It is far from the primary threat posed as "unprecedented" bushfires dovetail with conditions the NSW Rural Fire Service classified as catastrophic, but neither should it be taken lightly.
Health warnings arrived quickly as the smoke haze thickened, yet often it is mining that falls in the crosshairs when the region's alarm bells sound over air quality.
Singleton GP Bob Vickers estimates that 90 per cent of coarse particulate pollution stems from the region's open-cut mines. Dr Vickers said that pollution has reached "crisis point".
Hunter monitoring stations have recorded multiple exceedances of the national standard for coarse and fine particle pollution, and across the state alerts have doubled since 2018.
The NSW Environment Protection Authority argues that in an international context the state's air rates well. It points to a wider plethora of factors in the Hunter that contribute to air quality problems including the drought, bushfires, wood heaters and heavy industry including mining.
What is clear is that this pollution can carry serious risks. The United States' Environmental Protection Agency warns that particle less than 10 micrometers in diameter pose the greatest problems "because they can get deep into your lungs, and some may even get into your bloodstream".
It cites studies linking exposure to problems including non-fatal heart attacks, irregular heartbreat, decreased lung function and increased respiratory problems.
Close attention to the matter in the region is vital. With little respite in sight for the drought, and the bushfire crisis unlikely to end as summer heats up, air quality may become a more pressing matter for health authorities in our region over the coming months without changes.
What is crucial is that it is considered and reported regularly. It is those who have inhibited respiration or conditions including asthma who will pay the price if particulate pollution is not taken seriously. For their sake, it must remain a priority for us all.