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Wildfire Smoke Affecting Communities Across the Country

Wildfires in California and Colorado are spewing out smoke that is traveling to other parts of the country. The health effects of the dirty air are substantial, and they could last long after the fires are out.
August 31, 2020, 10am PDT | Camille Fink
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Northern California Wilidfires

"Record setting conflagrations in California and Colorado have smothered residents of the two states with choking, stinging smoke. But the impact of that smoke is also being felt hundreds, even thousands, of miles away, and the health impacts may last for years after the flames subside," write Michael Kodas and Evelyn Nieves.

Monitoring the impacts of wildfire smoke can be hard because the trail of emissions can be unpredictable and the types of particles and gases in the air depend on what is burning.

"Smoke from burning forests and grasslands can contain everything from carbon monoxide to carcinogens like benzene and formaldehyde, but the two things that health officials focus on are ozone and particulate matter, both of which can travel thousands of miles from the fire that creates them," Kodas and Nieves.

Fine particulate matter can travel far, and the health impacts can be significant. The concern more recently is that inhaling these emissions can make people more vulnerable to the coronavirus, even if they are located far from a wildfire.

Smoke in places such as San Francisco is so bad that residents are unable to leave their homes for any period of time. As a result, they cannot take advantage of walking and outdoor dining, two activities that have helped people cope with lockdowns.

"San Francisco residents are wondering what breathing in the smoke means for their health. Can they be impaired by wildfire smoke the way a person can be sickened by second-hand cigarette smoke? Are the effects cumulative? If so, is living in an increasingly smoky California hazardous to one's health?" add Kodas and Nieves.

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Published on Thursday, August 27, 2020 in Inside Climate News
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