Researchers highlight the urgent need for clear health warnings about the impact of long-range wildfire smoke.
In the study, which was published in the journal GeoHealth, researchers at Colorado State University analysed six years of hospitalisation data and death records in order to understand the health impacts of smoke from large wildfires across the Western United States.
Currently, researchers do not really know how harmful smoke is as it gets older, or becomes long-range.
However, the researchers found that long-range wildfire smoke was associated with increased hospitalisations and an increased risk of death from cardiovascular outcomes.
The authors of the study have said that this gap in the understanding is because historically, the smoke has been measured by land-based sensors which are primarily located in large urban areas.
The researchers are now collaborating with local government officials on messaging related to the different types of wildfire smoke, with a specific aim to reach the most vulnerable populations.
‘We want people to be smoke-aware,’ said Sheryl Magzamen, lead author of the study said.
‘There’s a lack of communication about smoke from distant wildfires.
‘Generally when there are local fires, there are advisories in the news that are associated with evacuations and local fire conditions.
‘If the smoke is even two days old, things happen chemically, which changes the smoke a lot.
‘As the small particles found in wildfire smoke age, they can cause more oxidative stress and more respiratory health effects. But wildfire smoke itself is a mixture of particles and gases. Teasing apart the effects of all the components of smoke and what happens to the mixture across space and time – and how those changes impact health – is an enormous scientific challenge.
‘In the U.S we have wildfire smoke every summer, it’s critical that we keep people healthy and safe.’
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