Silent Calamity: The health impacts of wildfire smoke.

I finished another post that mentioned the Arizona’s Pinnacle Ridge wildfire and then went on to other stuff, only to find this over at Skeptical Science.com, and I just can’t resist sharing it over here.

 

https://skepticalscience.com/health-impacts-wildfire-smoke.html

Posted on 14 June 2021 by Guest Author
This is a re-post from Yale Climate Connections by Bob Henson

Articles on U.S. wildfires don’t often show a photo of someone gasping in a hospital bed or felled by a heart attack. Yet an increasing body of evidence suggests that the biggest societal impacts of increasing wildland fire are happening in our own bodies, the result of tiny particulates spewed in vast amounts.

Millions of people across the western U.S. coughed and hacked their way through the summer and autumn of 2020, when some of the region’s worst fires on record ripped across the landscape. It’s too soon to know the full range of health consequences from that summer’s blazes, but there’s already evidence now in peer review that more than 100 deaths may be attributable to 2020’s late-summer smoke in Washington state alone. If another early estimate is on target, the smoke may have contributed to between 1,200 and 3,000 premature deaths in California among people 65 and older.

Research on wildfire smoke and health is advancing hand in hand with the threat itself. …

 

Fine particulates: minuscule and merciless
The most concerning byproducts of wildland fire are the smallest particulates routinely tracked by EPA: PM2.5, those no larger than 2.5 microns in diameter. These have long been linked to increased risk of illness and death, as they’re small enough to enter lungs and also the bloodstream, thus affecting both cardiovascular and respiratory systems.

Globally, more than 4 million deaths per year are estimated to be triggered by outdoor air pollution. The actual toll could be twice that, if one recent study is correct. A large share of those fatalities can be chalked up to PM2.5. …

 

Smoke, health, and the environmental equity implications
Wildfires are seldom viewed through the lens of environmental justice. The reason, in part, is that most immediate impacts of U.S. wildfire, including injuries and deaths as well as structural damage, tend to affect exurban and rural communities in the West that are largely white. For example, the Camp Fire of November 2018 …

 

Zeroing in on longevity and health impacts
Back in 1994, the landmark “Six Cities” study from the Harvard School of Public Health revealed pollution’s terrible toll: long-term exposure to high levels of PM2.5, even in cities that met existing air quality standards, could shorten life expectancy by up to three years. Reducing PM2.5 gives the most health benefit for each dollar of pollution control. …

 

Bracing for more fire and smoke this summer
The accumulating research on wildfires and health could lead to a transformation in how we view the infernos that are becoming more widespread across ever-more-intense fire seasons. Human-produced global heating is not only raising temperatures – it’s also raising the stakes for wildfire risk. In a warming climate, landscapes can dry out more readily even where precipitation trends aren’t changing.

“Among the many processes important to California’s diverse fire regimes, warming?driven fuel drying is the clearest link between anthropogenic climate change and increased California wildfire activity to date,” concluded Park Williams of Columbia University in a 2019 paper. …