Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Researchers say wildfire smoke is reversing years of air pollution progress

Record-setting wildfires are becoming a regular occurrence in the Western United States. It's a sobering trend that poses a threat to people across the country, as hazardous smoke pollutes the air. “Fires burn in California, or in Nevada and Arizona, and prevailing winds carry that smoke as far as the Eastern Seaboard. And it can cause measurable changes in PM2.5 concentrations, very far away," explained Michael Wara, a senior research scholar at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. Particulate matter 2.5 is a toxic pollutant caused by wildfires and other emissions sources. The microscopic particles are so small they can penetrate deep into a person's lungs and enter the bloodstream, increasing the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Wara says the Clean Air Act of 1990 spurred a nationwide effort to combat this pollution, reducing emissions from sources like factories and cars. And while enormous progress has been made in the last 30 years, Wara says wildfires are putting that in jeopardy. In a recently published paper, Wara and a team of researchers examined the changing risk and societal burden of wildfire in the United States. They say wildfire smoke will be one of the most widely felt health impacts of climate change throughout the country, but U.S. clean air regulations are not equipped to deal with it. "One of the things about the Clean Air Act that is a little odd is traditionally prescribed fire, which is the cheapest way to deal with fuels, is treated as an air pollution source that is subject to the law. Whereas wildfire is treated kind of as an act of God, that no one is responsible for," Wara said. He says reversing progress on air pollution puts the health of millions at risk. “Likely making large numbers of seniors citizens sick. It’s also likely making large numbers of kids sick," said Wara. Researchers at the University of California-Irvine examined economic losses from the 2018 California wildfires. Damage to homes and buildings accounted for $27.7 billion in losses; costs associated with the health effects of air pollution surpassed $32 billion. Wara says year-round fuel management will be a critical strategy in reducing the number of catastrophic wildfires. Through prescribed burns, firefighters remove excess vegetation, thinning forested areas with chainsaws or heavy equipment. “A prescribed fire is a way to avoid a wildfire. It’s like choosing the battlefield that we fight fire on. If we let nature choose, we’re going to lose," Wara said...MORE

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ask Bill Gates to get rid of the smoke! Then, shoot on sight all arsonists.