Unhealthy Air from Wildfires: A Fiery Enemy Against Clean Air Progress

Wildfires Continue to Reverse Progress Against Air Pollution

Wildfires Reverse Progress Against Air Pollution


Unhealthy air from wildfires is wreaking havoc in the western United States, leading to hundreds of additional deaths each year. In fact, a recent study published in The Lancet Planetary Health journal reveals that between 2000 and 2020, wildfires caused an alarming increase of 670 premature deaths annually in the West. It seems like all the progress made in cleaning America’s air has gone up in smoke, quite literally.

Lead researcher Jun Wang, chair of chemical and biochemical engineering at the University of Iowa, lamented, “Our air is supposed to be cleaner and cleaner, thanks to the EPA’s regulations on emissions. But the fires have thrown a wrench into these air-quality gains. We are losing ground.”

To understand the impact of wildfires on air quality and premature deaths, the researchers employed an AI program to analyze air quality data collected from satellites and ground-based stations. Their focus was on measuring airborne black carbon, a harmful fine-particle air pollutant strongly linked to respiratory and heart diseases.

Their findings are alarming. Black carbon concentrations have been rising by a staggering 55% annually in the western United States. This increase can be attributed to the smoke generated by wildfires in the region or drifting south from Canada. However, the estimated increase of 670 premature deaths each year is likely to be a conservative figure.

“This is the first time we have looked at black carbon concentrations everywhere, and at such a detailed resolution of one kilometer,” Wang explains.

It’s not just the West that is feeling the impact. Wildfires are also affecting air quality in the Midwest, although the direct effects on health are currently minimal. Wang warns, “We are on the borderline. If fires increase or become more frequent, our air quality will get worse.”

Interestingly, the eastern United States did not experience significant declines in air quality during the 2000-2020 period covered by the study. However, it is worth noting that the data did not account for the Canadian wildfires that blanketed New York City and other eastern areas with smoke earlier this year.

While wildfires continue to pose a significant threat to air quality and human health, there is hope for effective prevention and mitigation strategies. Raising awareness about the impact of wildfires on air pollution is crucial. Additionally, implementing measures to reduce the intensity and frequency of wildfires can help safeguard our precious air.

Remember, clean air is vital for our well-being. Let’s join forces and work towards a future where our skies are clear, and our lungs breathe easy.

Join the conversation: Have you experienced the effects of wildfires on air quality in your area? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!

[source: University of Iowa, news release, Dec. 4, 2023] Learn more about COPD

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