Wildfires Will Expose Millions of Americans to Air Pollution

Wildfires Will Expose Millions of Americans to Air Pollution

A study released by Yale found that a surge in wildfire events as a result of climate change will expose tens of millions of Americans to high levels of air pollution in the coming decades.

The study, led by Yale with some Harvard collaborators, estimated air pollution from past and projected wildfires in 561 countries and found that more than 82 million people will experience “smoke waves” or consecutive days with high air pollution due to fires. The study finds northern California, western Oregon and the Great Plains to receive the highest exposure to the wildfire smoke.

Smoke from wildfires contains large amounts of fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, which can have profound impacts on human health. The study set out to find how this would affect human populations, including how overall air quality will be affected, how these levels will change under climate change and which regions will be most impacted.

The researchers estimated the levels of PM2.5 directly related to wildfires during 2004-2009 and then estimated the same for a future date, 2046-2051, under climate change conditions. They found that 20 counties that are currently smoke-free, are expected to experience at least one smoke wave in the future date range.

They also found that the average smoke wave will increase by an average of 15 days in more than 62.5 percent of the counties evaluated.