The Saddleworth Moor wildfires that broke out in 2018 exposed five million people to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) levels above the daily World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline, a new study has found.
The fires burned in June 2018 for roughly three weeks, 100 firefighters and the army attended and air pollution from the fires spread widely across the northwest of England, including Bolton, Wigan and Southport
For the study, published in Environmental Research Letters, researchers led by the University of Leeds used computer simulations to calculate the effect of the fires on air quality and the resulting impact on health.
In the model two scenarios were considered: 1) a scenario with no wildfires and 2) a scenario in which pollutants from the fires are included.
Researchers particularly looked at how the fires impacted on ‘deaths brought forward’, which is a measure of deaths that occurred earlier than they would have without the pollution from the fires.
According to their findings, the PM2.5 pollution from the fires increased the number of deaths brought forward by up to 165% (Saddleworth Moor) and 95% (Winter Hill), compared to if there were no fires.
The authors also estimate the economic impact of the fires to be £21.1m.
The authors said: ‘It’s clear from this study that the pollution from wildfires can have a significant effect on public health. The smoke contains very high levels of toxic particulate matter aerosol, which can be transported long distances. When this smoke passes over urban areas it adds to an already polluted environment and can cause very poor air quality.
‘We should be aware that the smoke from wildfires can travel long distances, and can damage people’s health, even far from the fires.
‘Although people may not have been able to smell smoke, particulate matter was very high in areas far away from the fires, such as Southport and Wigan.
‘Particulate pollution from the fires substantially degraded air quality over the north-west of England, leading the pollution levels much above the recommended levels.’
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