Wildfire smoke is destroying air quality progress


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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.

Health risks from smoke worsen with more wildfires in the Western U.S.


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | January 5, 2022

As wildfires worsen in the Western U.S., air pollutants are reaching concerning levels.

Ozone and smoke are the two air pollutants that are most common to result from wildfires and extreme heat. The increase in the pollutants across the country can affect people’s lungs and cardiovascular systems alongside aggravating chronic diseases according to The New York Times. Increased levels of ozone and smoke in a community’s air can also lead to premature death.

A new study monitored the levels of ozone and smoke in the Western U.S. from 2000 to 2020. It found millions of people were exposed to more days of combined dangerous levels of smoke and ozone pollution every year. Researchers involved with the project said the worsening wildfires and heat that result in these pollutants are linked to climate change.

Daniel Swain, one of the climate scientists who authored the study, said the damages of wildfires are both short and long term, even if the shorter term risks usually get the most attention.

“Something may not necessarily have a high likelihood of killing you personally in the short term,” he told the Times. “But if you impose that same risk on tens of millions of people over and over again, the societal burden is actually very high.”