New research has found the bushfire smoke that hung over Wagga during December and January probably caused a small number of deaths in the region.
Research published this month in the Medical Journal of Australia by the Bushfire and Natural Hazard Cooperative Research Centre projected that bushfire smoke had contributed to more than 400 deaths in Australia's eastern states.
Research co-author Bin Jalaludin, from the University of NSW School of Public Health and Community Medicine, told The Daily Advertiser that is was possible Wagga suffered a handful of deaths.
"We may not have the death rates for Wagga but we can assume the same rate for NSW," Professor Jalaludin said.
"There are assumptions there but if you look at deaths the numbers would be quite small.
"We found over four months there were just over 400 deaths for Queensland, NSW, Victoria and the ACT, which has a population of more than 12 million.
"If we cut it down to Wagga with a population of 70,000 we would not see very many extra deaths in Wagga itself."
Wagga's air quality dropped to eleven times worse than the 'hazardous' level as smoke drifted across the city from bushfires in northern NSW, eastern Victoria and nearby Snowy Valleys.
The research estimated numbers of deaths, cardiovascular and respiratory hospitalisations and emergency department visits for asthma attacks that could be attributed to smoke exposure.
Charles Sturt University adjunct professor at Wagga's School of Biomedical Sciences Bruce Graham said the estimates could be accurate.
"I would say it was possible and probably probable. The bigger issue is, a bit like the coronavirus at the moment, that it's not just the people that die; it's the impact on health," he said.
"I'm sure there were a lot of people exposed to heavy smoke particles, particularly those fighting the fires, and that may have triggered reasonably serious health impacts with asthma and irritation to their lungs.\
Professor Graham said those closest to incidents such as the Dunns Road bushfire would have likely suffered more.
"There's an exponential decrease in the concentration as you move away from the actual fire source," he said.
"People up in Tumbarumba, Tumut and Batlow were likely more affected and some of those would have turned up in Wagga Base Hospital."
The Bureau of Health Information has yet to release Wagga hospital admission data for January, the month in which the city had its worst air quality readings.