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article imageWildfires are causing chronic smoke exposure, premature death

By Karen Graham     Jun 25, 2019 in Health
Climate change means more intense and frequent wildfires churning out waves of smoke that scientists say will sweep across North America to affect tens of millions of people and cause a spike in premature deaths.
From Alaska, down through Canada, the United States, and Mexico, people in cities and rural areas alike now have to be alert for smoke - the secondary effects of wildfires, even though they may be hundreds of miles away.
The West Coast and Rocky Mountain regions and British Columbia in Canada are expected to suffer the most from blazes related to drier, warmer conditions brought on by the climate crisis, and this means there will be even more smoke to contend with.
"There's so little we can do. We have air purifiers and masks -- otherwise, we're just like 'Please don't burn,"' said Sarah Rochelle Montoya of San Francisco, who fled her home with her husband and children last fall to escape thick smoke enveloping the city from a disastrous fire roughly 150 miles (241 kilometers) away, reports CTV News Canada.
In this photo taken on November 8  2018 a home is overshadowed by towering smoke plumes as the Camp ...
In this photo taken on November 8, 2018 a home is overshadowed by towering smoke plumes as the Camp fire races through town in Paradise, California
Josh Edelson, AFP/File
Even though other sources of air pollution are on the decline due to fewer older cars being on the highway and coal-fired power plants closing, the gains made in cleaner air are being erased by the uptick in wildfires. Researchers say the huge volumes of smoke from the fires affect people hundreds and even thousands of miles away from the source.
Scientists with NASA and universities in the U.S. and Canada are refining satellite imagery to predict where smoke will travel and how intense it will be. This will allow local authorities to use those forecasts to send out real-time alerts to warn people to stay indoors when the air is unhealthy.
Wildfire research deals with smoke
On Thursday last week, University of Alberta wildfire Prof. Mike Flannigan spoke to the 2019 Clean Air Forum in Strathcona County. His research suggests that global warming will double the amount of land burnt each year in Alberta by 2100, resulting in six to 12 times more forest fire smoke.
A NASA satellite image shows the Fort McMurray wildfire in Alberta  Canada
A NASA satellite image shows the Fort McMurray wildfire in Alberta, Canada
In talking about Alberta, Flannigan said that already, the fire season is starting earlier - in March instead of April - While Canada now loses 2.5 million hectares (6.2 million acres) a year to fire instead of the one million it did in the 1970s. The fires will burn wider and deeper into the forest floor, which means more smoke – six to 12 times more, he predicted.
James Crooks, a health investigator at National Jewish Health, a Denver, Colorado medical center that specializes in respiratory ailments, notes that where smoke from wildfires once amounted to nothing more than a "fleeting nuisance," the smoke generated from wildfires today has become a recurring and serious health risk, according to USA Today.
"There are so many fires so many places upwind of you that you're getting increased particle levels and increased ozone from the fires for weeks and weeks," Crooks said.
Cool overnight conditions combined with smoke from numerous BC wildfire has caused an inversion thro...
Cool overnight conditions combined with smoke from numerous BC wildfire has caused an inversion throughout Vanderhoof and along BC Hwy 27 and surrounding areas. (August 2018).
B.C. Wildfire Service
Wildfire smoke is a health risk
Wildfire smoke is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant materials. This smoke can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
People who have heart or lung diseases, like heart disease, chest pain, lung disease, or asthma, are at higher risk from wildfire smoke. Older adults are more likely to be affected by smoke. This may be due to their increased risk of heart and lung diseases.
Children are more likely to be affected by health threats from smoke. Children’s airways are still developing and they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults. Also, children often spend more time outdoors engaged in activity and play.
More about Wildfires, Smoke, Health effects, Premature death, Climate change
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