'On a smoggy day, I can't let him outside'

March 4, 1992

'On a smoggy day, I can't let him outside'

By John Tognolini

SYDNEY — She's struggling to breathe, her lungs are contracting, it's another asthma attack, and it can kill her. She's 10 years old and a friend of mine. Her family has no history of asthma. Her mother blames the smog that covers inner-city Sydney like a blanket on days when there's no wind to blow it away.

The smog is created by around a million cars, trucks and buses moving around Sydney each day, with a smaller but still important contribution from polluting industries.

The footbridge over Victoria Road, Rozelle, offers a view across the whole central business district, the lower north shore, Redfern and Sydney University. From it, standing above six lanes of traffic, you can see the greyish smog start to build up from 6 a.m. as the peak hour flood begins to pour into the city. "Every day 88,000 cars pass here", claims a billboard on the White Bay Hotel, which is up for sale.

Omitted from the sales pitch is the fact that these vehicles make this one of the most polluted parts of a badly polluted metropolis. Victoria Road ends at The Crescent, which hugs Rozelle Bay, where much of the lead from the passing traffic ends up. Not surprisingly, the bay is the biologically deadest part of Sydney Harbour.

Sydney has been compared to Los Angeles, not just because both are unplanned large cities which ripped up much of their public transport infrastructure in the '50s and are now environmental disaster areas as a result, but also because of common geographical features. Both are set in coastal basins bordered by mountains. Anything that goes into the atmosphere — which is mostly wastes from motor vehicles, oil refineries, chemical works and aircraft — tends to accumulate in the valley.

In the case of Sydney, the winds, usually blowing onshore from the Pacific, take this toxic load as far as the base of the mountains, but usually no farther. This is relatively good news for my young friend in the inner city, but a disaster for other children in the western suburbs, where the daily dose of toxic cocktail produces a juvenile asthma rate of one in four.

My friend who suffers from asthma is far from the only one. Sitting in a cafe in Balmain with my 18-month-old daughter, I overhear a woman discussing her young son's asthma. "On a smoggy day, I can't let him outside the house", she tells me. n
[Cities choke on smog: page 9.]

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