Smoke from wildfires causes health problems

As the number, size, and explosiveness of wildfires increases in the U.S. and other countries, it brings danger not only due to the destructiveness of fire but also due to the widespread exposure to wildfire smoke.

“A big wildfire event not only impacts local communities but also people hundreds of miles away.”  The smoke contains gases and microscopic particles.  These can cause symptoms like “coughing, burning eyes and shortness of breath.”  “More seriously, the smoke can trigger asthma attacks or, more chronically, lead to heart problems and has even been linked to the development of cancer.”

The number of large wildfires in the western U.S. has increased from around 140 each year in the 1980’s to at least 250 per year in the 2000’s.  The wildfire season has lengthened by over 2 months since the 1970’s (see the infographic).  The area being burned may increase in places over 600% as average temperatures increase.

Research indicates that “wildfire-prone states in the northwest are a glaring exception” to an overall improvement in air quality in the United States over the past 30 years.  There is a link between wildfire smoke and illness or death especially in that the smoke “exacerbates a range of conditions that cause the sickness.”  “Almost every place in the U.S. … could be impacted by upwind smoke” from wildfires.

“Wildfires are a growing problem and climate change is making them worse.”  “There have been a lot of predictions that if we don’t get ahead of climate change that crazy things will happen.  Well, crazy things are happening.  This is what climate change looks like.”

Read the article (Oliver Milman, The Guardian, August 2, 2018).

For more information about the dangers and impacts of wildfires, search Science Primary Literature (database).

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