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Biology, Sustainability, Uncategorized

Health impacts of wildfire smoke exposure: It’s only going to get worse

For the past two weekends I have paddled through some pretty nasty air. I was at two different dragon boat festivals, both of which were affected by the smoke from the wildfire carnage in BC.

The festival in Edmonton this week had to postpone the entire morning of races due to the horrendous air quality. It was definitely better in the afternoon, but was it good enough? It will come as no surprise to anyone who has tried to breath in a scene like that shown in the article in Star Edmonton (sorry, I was too busy breathing to take my own photo), that the smoke has negative respiratory effects. Asthma, COPD, acute bronchitis, and pneumonia are all worsened by wildfire smoke (Reid et al, 2016). There is also some evidence that wildfires increase cardiovascular events like heart attacks, but this isn’t sufficiently studied yet. And there is also potential links between wildfire smoke and negative birth outcomes like lower birth weights (we already know there are links between chronic exposure to smoke and birth weights).

Unfortunately, despite the assertion by a certain political figure that lumber imports are responsible for the extreme wildfires currently ravaging North America, the actual evidence indicates that drought and increasing temperatures will continue to result in more wildfires, more serious wildfires, and longer fire seasons (Westerling, Hidalgo, Cayan, & Swetnam, 2006). Land management does have something to do with it, but not in a cleaning up fallen trees to use for lumber sort of way. We have typically increased fire load by suppressing fires and other similar land management practices, while also supporting the growth of large tracts of one tree species all of a similar age.

But hey, on the upside, forest fires increase spending so they are good for the GDP (read this post if that doesn’t make sense).

Reid, C., Brauer, M., Johnston, F., Jerrett, M., Balmes, J., & Elliott, C. (2016). Critical review of health impacts of wildfire smoke exposure. Environmental Health Perspectives, 124(9), 1334-1343. DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1409277

Westerling, A., Hidalgo, H., Cayan, D., & Swetnam, T. (2006). Warming and earlier spring increase western US forest wildfire activity. Science, 313, 940-943.


About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.


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