Grace Smith | September 23, 2022
Smoke caused by wildfires has been growing worse and worse over the past decade, decreasing policy-driven improvements in Western U.S. air quality progress, according to a study published Thursday.
The analysis said the number of people in locations experiencing an “extreme smoke day,” which is said to be unhealthy for all age groups, had a 27-fold increase over the past decade. Extreme smoke days affected 25 million people in 2020 alone.
The study also said increased wildfire smoke is being propelled by climate change, which increases the flammability of fuels, creates worse wildfires, and emits more smoke into the air. Exposure to grainy, particulate matter including smoke and its contaminants causes 48,000 deaths in the U.S. every year.
“People may be less likely to notice days with a modest increase in fine particulate matter from smoke, but those days can still have an impact on people’s health,” a researcher from the study, Marissa Childs, told the New York Times. Childs said the most extreme smoke days were seldom during 2006-2010, but from 2016-2020, over 1.5 million people were frequently exposed to dangerous levels of smoke.
A solution to stop the decrease in air quality progress would be to reduce the likelihood of wildfires growing and becoming more destructive, whether that be from prescribed fires or other fire management techniques.