Exposure To Wildfire Smoke Can Bring Early Death

The wildfire season began with the Corral Fire which burnt over 50 square kilometers of grasslands in Northern California’s San Joaquin County. Almost 3.5 million dollars were spent to control the fire. But the impact doesn’t end there. Wildfires release huge amounts of smoke into the air, which can cause lung damage and increase the risk of heart attacks. In situations like this, a model that shows how wildfire smoke affects a state’s population could raise awareness among authorities and residents.

Wildfire from air

What does the wildfire model tell us?

According to research team, wildfire smoke has been the culprit in 52,500 to 55,700 cases of premature deaths in California from 2008 to 2018. The study confirms that the adverse health effects from wildfire smoke are pretty considerable, says Stephanie Cleland, an environmental health scientist at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada. Health impact checks like this emphasize the need to build better smoke resiliency.

One of the most striking facts that we have been missing is that wildfire smoke can have far reaching effects over a span of several years. Previous research focused only on acute exposure to wildfire smoke, but recent studies consider the impacts of long-term exposure.

Summary of averaged modeled PM2.5 (μg/m3)
Summary of averaged modeled PM2.5 (μg/m3) values and acres burned by year (2008 to 2018) statewide in California. Source: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.adl1252
Summary of long-term mortality impacts
Summary of long-term mortality impacts across California due to fire-only PM2.5. Source: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.adl1252

How does wildfire smoke affect our health?

Wildfire smoke releases delicate particulate matter called PM2.5 into the air. These particles have a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less. Once inhaled, these tiny particles enter the lungs’ alveoli (air sacs). The particles irritate and corrode the alveoli, causing inflammation. This leads to severe issues like shortness of breath, coughing, and allergic reactions. Lung problems, higher risk of heart attack, and early death can be traced back to particulate matter pollution.

How has the model been made?

Michael Jerrett, an environmental health scientist at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, and his colleagues designed a mathematical model by using annual averages of wildfire smoke exposure over an 11-year period to form a picture of the long-term effects on mortality. The early evidence suggests that PM2.5 from wildfires are more toxic than from other sources like factories and fossil fuels. The team imbibed this assumption into the model.

More insights into the long-term effects of exposure to wildfire smoke can be gathered by following a group of people over a decade or two. Then, a comparison can be drawn between the death rates of people and how that data lines up with exposure to wildfire smoke.

With every passing year, cases of wildfires are rising, and most of it can be attributed to climate change. An overview of the size of the problem becomes a handy tool to predict and prevent health issues caused by wildfire smoke.

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