How record wildfires are harming human health

By | November 25, 2021

Nature reports:

On a cool September morning in San Francisco, a group of firefighters packed their gear into a bright red van. The sickly sweet odour of pine resin from a distant blaze hung in the air as the crew prepared to battle the rapidly growing Dixie fire, on its way towards becoming the largest single wildfire in California’s history. Sweeping across the Sierra Nevada mountains, it would come to scorch more than 3,900 square kilometres before crews fully contained it in late October.

The firefighters had one more stop before they joined the thousands of other people working to control the blaze. In a small classroom inside the San Francisco Fire Department’s training building in the Mission District, Mary Prunicki and a team of researchers collected questionnaires and blood samples from each firefighter.

Prunicki, a pollution biologist at nearby Stanford University, will use the samples as a baseline to compare with ones taken when the firefighters return. She’ll be looking for signs of their bodies’ reaction to the smoke, including inflammation and changes to immune and heart function.

Smoke from wildfires is responsible for tens to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths around the world each year. And Prunicki is one of hundreds of researchers trying to understand the health effects of smoke exposure. Scientists want to know what it is in wildfire smoke that makes it more harmful to humans than other forms of pollution. They are looking at short-term and long-term effects; who is most vulnerable to the pollutants; and how best to keep people safe and healthy in smoke plumes that can stretch for thousands of kilometres from a blaze such as the Dixie fire. [Continue reading…]

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