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.”