How wildfires impact our health and the environment

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It is a sad fact that many areas of the world, including parts of the United States, are now at greater risk from wildfires.

Numerous climate models have shown that climate change has significantly increased the chance of wildfires in Canada, Australia, and the U.S. West.

There is growing concern about the possible health consequences of wildfires.

Dr Meredith McCormack (associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University) and volunteer medical spokesperson at American Lung Association stated that all evidence points to wildfires becoming more common and having a larger impact over a larger area.

Recent research by the American Lung AssociationIt was found that large-scale fires can smoke over thousands of miles, polluting millions of people’s lungs.

Individuals in the United States experienced a 19% increase over 2001-2004 in high wildfire risk in 2016-2019.

Dr McCormack explained that the type of air pollution that is caused by wildfires tends to be more severe than other forms of pollution, even though it occurs over a shorter time.

Wildfire smoke is composed of fine and coarse particulate matter, gases, and volatile organic compounds.

The location and type of material that was burned determines the chemical composition of wildfire smoke.

But Dr McCormack said wildfires are known to create particulate matter pollution – often referred to as PM2.5 and PM10 – which can worsen existing health problems like asthma or chronic lung disease.

Research has shown that PM2.5 exposure can cause strokes and heart attacks.

Exposure to wildfire smoke can lead to adverse pregnancy outcomes including preterm birth.

There is strong evidence that smoking exposure increases the risk of premature deaths.

She also mentioned that the first signs of pollution are headaches, chest discomfort, and coughing. But, it is not known what long-term health consequences can be attributed to inhaling wildfire smoke, which is common in hard-hit areas.

Dr McCormack said that as people prepare to travel in the summer, it’s important to check reliable news and information sources about the possibility of wildfires and air pollution, and if possible prepare a plan to deal with any emergencies.

“It’s important to listen to the public health authorities, and to protect yourself with early action in the event of a wildfire,” she added.

She stated that using KN95 or surgical facemasks can help protect against particle contamination, as can indoor air purifiers.

“One consequence of the last several years and Covid is that people are more aware of the strategies they can use to protect their health and their lungs,” she said.

“There’s also an increased awareness about air quality. PPE is readily available. It is therefore important to keep them on hand and to think about how they can be used.

“More and more, wildfires are recognised as a threat now and so, we should help communities understand where they can get information, what the actions that they can take, and how they can look at the bigger picture and help reduce the impact of climate change.”

New data from AiDash, a satellite-powered vegetation management provider that uses AI, has shown that the top five counties with high wildfire risk this month (July), are Monterey.

AiDash’s CEO Abhishek Singh said the calculations are based on a number of factors, including land surface temperatures, drought, fuel moisture content in vegetation and whether there are any natural barriers to prevent wildfires from spreading further.

According to him, California’s droughts have made it worse in recent years. This means that there is little moisture in the ground.

He used the Monterey County wildfire, which occurred in January of California, to illustrate how longer wildfire seasons are.

He stated that it was crucial for local authorities to use dynamic wildfire maps to improve their mitigation strategies. These maps can take into consideration factors such as weather forecasts and moisture content.

“If something major is not done, we’ll be seeing wildfires across the year in California,” said Mr Singh.

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