As Australian Open Begins, Pollution From Fires Is in Play

As Australian Open Begins, Pollution From Fires Is in Play

“If you get down to it, people are losing their families and homes,” said Nick Kyrgios, the Australian men’s star. “It’s not easy to just completely switch your concentration on the Australian Open — ‘How is your forehand going today?’ — when you put it in perspective.”

But after a number of players complained or suffered because of poor air quality during qualifying last week, there are concerns about a repeat during the tournament itself, which was set to begin on Monday and run for two weeks.

“If it does get bad, I can’t imagine going out there and everyone going out there and playing three out of five sets,” said Denis Shapovalov, a Canadian seeded 13th in the tournament. “You get warnings from the news telling people to stay inside, that it’s not good for your health to be outside, to be breathing this stuff, and then you get an email from the tournament saying that it’s playable and you guys have to go out there and put your life in jeopardy, put your health in jeopardy.

“You see the effects on players it has right now, the last couple days, but you don’t know what it’s going to do later in our lives, and how it could affect us if we’re breathing this air in for two weeks,” he said.

The prospect of two such weeks is unlikely. The air quality in Melbourne has improved markedly in recent days, and though it is dependent in part on wind direction, the air quality forecast for the early stages of the tournament is promising.

The Australian Open decided that play would be automatically suspended outdoors if the levels of microscopic particulate pollution, called PM2.5, exceeded a threshold of 200 micrograms per cubic meter. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the upper limit of the hazardous form of pollution for air quality to be considered “good” is 12 micrograms per cubic meter over 24 hours. In California last year, when thick smoke from the Camp Fire rolled across the Bay Area, the particulate pollution hit nearly 200 micrograms per cubic meter.

The tiny particles are hazardous, and the threshold used by the Australian Open is within what the E.P.A. defines as a “very unhealthy” range, when people are advised to limit outdoor activity.

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