What is it about?

Over the last few decades the frequency and extent of wildfires has increased in the USA. This is because of climate change and land use choices. When wood burns, it releases small particles in the air. These particles are called ‘particulate matter’ (PM). It also releases gaseous pollutants, such as acrolein, formaldehyde, benzene and hydrogen cyanide which are called ‘hazardous air pollutants’ (HAPs). Both PM and HAPs can have impacts on human health. But most previous research looks at PM, and detecting and quantifying HAPs in wildfire events remains limited. In this study, researchers gathered data from daytime wildfire smoke plumes. They then identified the relationships between PM, HAPs, and human health. They found that the older the smoke is, the lower the health risk from HAPs. But they also saw that the total risk from smoke changes depending on the ratio of PM to HAPs.

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Why is it important?

HAPs can cause cancer and other health problems. But at the moment, research on the effects of breathing HAPs is limited to firefighters due to frequent occupational exposure to high smoke levels. This study looks at the distribution and effects of wildfire smoke on people who do not breathe it in as part of their occupation. This study shows that even though the risk from HAPs is lower than the risk from PM, it is still there. This makes it important to study the effects of HAPs along with all the other pollutants present in wildfire. KEY TAKEAWAY: Wildfire smoke contains many pollutants, such as PM and HAPs. Each of these pollutants types has a negative effect on human health. It is important to study them all to understand the impact of exposure to multiple pollutants at the same time. It is also important to take steps to reduce wildfires and climate change, to ensure better health for us all.

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Hazardous Air Pollutants in Fresh and Aged Western US Wildfire Smoke and Implications for Long-Term Exposure, Environmental Science & Technology, August 2020, American Chemical Society (ACS), DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.0c04497.
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