Wildfire smoke poses health risks to millions

Wildfire smoke poses health risks to millions

07 November 2013

published by www.abqjournal.com

USA — A new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council points to wildfire smoke as a health risk to millions of Americans. New Mexico was among 10 states listed where wildfire smoke has a “major impact.”

The report, titled “Where There’s Fire, There’s Smoke,” suggests the country take action to curb the threat of climate change.

“There’s trouble in the wind. What blazes in Texas rarely stays in Texas. Wildfire smoke can pose serious health risks to people hundreds of miles away from the sources of fires,” Kim Knowlton, a senior scientist in NRDC’s Health and Environment Program, said in a press release.

The study, directed by Knowlton, is based on smoke data from the 2011 wildfire season. It was one of the worst in recent decades, and found that the area affected by smoke is 50 times greater than the area burned by fire. About two-thirds of Americans – nearly 212 million people – lived in counties affected by smoke conditions in 2011. Many states had large wildfires that year, but the study found that among the top 20 most affected states, six with no major fires nonetheless had to cope with more than a week of medium- to high-density smoke conditions during the year.

States with the greatest numbers of residents affected by wildfire smoke conditions for a week or longer in 2011, according to the report, are: Texas, Illinois, Florida, Missouri, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Alabama, Oklahoma and Iowa.

Other states where large numbers of people lived in areas with smoky conditions ranked in order are: Arkansas, Mississippi, Kansas, Tennessee, Colorado, New Mexico, Nebraska, Indiana, South Carolina and Minnesota. Altogether, more than one-third of the states experienced medium-to-high density smoke conditions for a week or longer, the report shows.

“The clear takeaway is that wildfires, smoke and the conditions that increase fire risk are national health concerns that spread well beyond the borders of local fire perimeters, conditions that are only projected to worsen with climate change,” according to the report.

NRDC used smoke data from federal weather satellites and also looked at the locations of Environmental Protection Agency ground-based air quality monitoring stations.

The report also shows steps some states are taking to protect their communities and suggests actions individuals can take if they know they are in a high-smoke period.

“Families can lessen the health risks from smoke by staying indoors or limiting outside physical activity,” Knowlton said. “You can keep smoke levels low inside the house by closing the windows and running the air conditioner on ‘recirculate.’”

“We also need better monitoring and early-warning systems for growing health threats, so people will know when the air is unhealthy for vulnerable groups,” the report says.

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