What are the health effects of wildfire smoke?

Credit: UC Davis

Home to highways and car-based lifestyles, California has long suffered from air pollution and has been a pioneer in purifying the air, for example by car emission standards. However, in recent years, the worst wildfires in state history have occurred in summer and autumn, and as smoke and haze spread for hundreds of miles, new threats to air quality have emerged.

Professor Anthony Wechsler, director of the Center for Air Quality Research at the University of California, Davis, who has been studying air quality issues for over 30 years, said:

The University of California, Davis Air pollution And health. For example, in the 1970s, Professor Thomas Carhill and his colleagues showed that lead pollution spread from the highway to the neighborhood, leading the gobs of the time. Jerry Brown introduces the first regulation of lead as a gasoline additive. Currently, campus-wide researchers are focusing on the health threats of wildfire smoke.

Smoke enters the eyes (and lungs)

Kent Pinkerton, director of the University of California, Davis Health and Environment Center and appointed professor of veterinary and medical schools, said smoke is small, mostly composed of carbon-based particles. ..

According to Pinkerton, the size of these particles is very important. Those less than 2.5 micrometers in size (called PM2.5) can penetrate deep into the airways and alveoli of the lungs. Particles can be trapped there by mucus or consumed by protective cells called macrophages, and the debris can cough or swallow. However, some particles can move from the lungs to other organ systems.

Smoke may also contain compounds such as dioxins and phthalates formed by burning plastics and other substances in burning homes. These compounds can exist as particles and, in some cases, as gases. Professor Qi Zhang of the Department of Environmental Toxicology discovered elevated levels of phthalates in Davis’ air during the 2018 campfire.

“The greatest health impact depends on the size and concentration of the particles,” Pinkerton said. “They can exist over long distances and for long periods of time.”

Acute symptoms of smoke exposure include eye and throat irritation, coughing and sneezing, chest tightness, and wheezing. It also includes rapid or arrhythmias and excessive fatigue.

These symptoms usually go away when smoke comes out. However, increasing evidence indicates that the effects can be protracted or lead to persistent health problems.

Natural experiment

In June 2008, smoke from a wildfire spread to the Davis area. PM2.5 levels at the University of California, Davis reach 80 micrograms per cubic meter, well above federal standards.

The birth season for rhesus monkeys living in the outdoor enclosure of the California National Center for Primates Research has just passed. Funded by the California Department of Air Resources, Professor Lisa Miller, a researcher at the Center and the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, has begun a long-term study of the effects of exposure to natural smoke on the lungs of 2-3 year old monkeys. .. A few months after birth at that time.

Miller has long been associated with affecting the immune system and lung function, similar to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a human lung disease, compared to monkeys born the following year and not exposed to smoke. discovered.

In the fall of 2018, the center conducted a second natural experiment. Smoke from a campfire 100 miles away covered the Davis campus. This time is the peak of the breeding season of rhesus monkeys. Brin Wilson, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the University of California, Davis, along with Professor Emeritus Pinkerton and Bill Rasley, tracked a female macaque of reproductive age that was naturally exposed to smoke early in pregnancy. They found that they were at high risk of miscarriage. Eighty-two percent of pregnancies resulted in successful childbirth, compared to 86-93 percent over the last nine years.

Respiratory disease is the main focus of CNPRC. Researchers at the center have developed the first rhesus monkey model of adult and childhood asthma using the human allergen house dust mite. This allows researchers to test biological mechanisms and new therapies. The Respiratory Diseases Unit, led by Miller, continues to study smoke exposure in both rodent and non-human primate models, including the development of smoke-producing combustion facilities for laboratory experiments.

Investigation of fire victims

Following the 2017 Sonoma and Napa fires, Ilwahertz Pisiotto, a professor of public health science and director of the Center for Environmental Health Sciences at the University of California, Davis, conducted a survey of the health of people affected by the wildfire. It was started. Her colleague Rebecca J. Schmidt, an assistant professor of public health science, said in 2017 B-SAFE, a fire-affected organism, following a group of women exposed to wildfire smoke during or shortly before pregnancy. Sample evaluation has started. And that baby. In February 2021, Hertz-Picciotto presented some of her work at a parliamentary briefing.

More than half of the survey respondents reported experiencing at least one symptom (including coughing and eye irritation) in the first three weeks of the fire. Over 20% reported asthma or wheezing. According to Hertz-Picciotto, many respondents reported that respiratory symptoms continued for several months after the fire.

“There is still a view that the effects of poor air quality are temporary, but what we see shows that the effects have been going on for months after the fire. , Back in the fire season, “she said.

According to Hertz-Picciotto, repeated exposure to poor air quality from wildfire smoke can lower the symptomatic threshold.

“There may be few chances for symptoms to appear,” she said.

The California fire season coincides with the onset of seasonal influenza and other winter viruses, as well as COVID-19. There may be an interaction between the effects of smoke and the virus that exacerbates lung problems. Several studies suggest that exposure to wildfire smoke increases the risk of COVID-19 infection, Hertz-Picciotto said.

Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Paige Biama uses a camera at Wake Up to Wildfires to tell the story of the people most affected by the 2017 Wildfire. We hear from survivors, firefighters, public health authorities, community groups, and scientists trying to understand it all while people are struggling to recover and a new fire is outbreaking.Credits: Center for Environmental Health Sciences, University of California, Davis

Children and outdoor workers

The primary concern for health researchers is children and adults working outdoors, such as agricultural workers.

“Children are very active outdoors, taking in more air than adults, compared to the mass of their lungs, and are particularly sensitive to wildfire smoke,” said Pinkerton. “Their immune system is still mature.”

Pinkerton is also the director of the Western Agricultural Health and Safety Center at the University of California, Davis.

“Only a few years ago, there were no plans or guidelines for dealing with the air quality of outdoor workers,” he said. The first California regulations came into effect in 2018. WCAHS has worked with both farmers and agricultural workers’ organizations to develop training materials and checklists for implementing regulations.

Catherine Konron, an assistant professor of public health scientists at the School of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, is studying how California’s regulations on air quality and mask use by agricultural workers are reflected in the field. For example, regulations require workers to be issued an N95 mask when the air quality index exceeds 150.

But there is a gap between policymaking and its adoption, Konron said. For example, workers often already wear cloth masks or bandanas as dust masks. The N95 mask requires proper wearing and can be uncomfortable when performing hard manual work outdoors in hot weather.

“We want to understand the perceptions of agricultural workers about airway protection in the event of smoke,” Konron said. “What precautions are they already taking on their own? What is the employer offering?”

A pilot study in collaboration with an agricultural worker organization revealed confusion about the protection of different types of face coverings, she said.

Mold carried by smoke

Wildfire smoke can also carry mold spores from forest soil over long distances. In 2020, Naomi Hauser, an infectious disease specialist and clinical assistant professor at the University of California, Davis, noticed a clear increase in mold infections, especially in burn patients. Looking at the data for the last three years, we found twice as many mold infections in 2020, which seems to coincide with the fire season.

“These are environmental molds found in soil and can be carried in the dust,” said Hauser, who is also a member of the University of California, Davis Climate Adaptation Research Center. The wind generated by a large fire can wipe out high mold spores in the air and spread them over long distances.

The study of living things in smoke is very new. Leda Kobziar, a fire ecologist at the University of Idaho in Moscow, coined the term “pyroaerobiology” in 2018.

because Mold spores Is relatively large, about 40 micrometers, and may fall out of the air faster than PM2.5 and ultrafine particles and not travel far. It can cause infections if it is settled by someone with damaged skin, such as a victim of a burn, or if it is inhaled by someone with weakened immunity.

“Most of us with intact skin and a healthy immune system are okay, but if you have an immunodeficiency or burn, you need to think about it,” Hauser said. Hauser and colleagues are planning further research on these infections.

Intersections, wildfires, health

Wildfires show a series of intersections. Drought, Climate change, Forest management, invasive species, and city planning intersect to make wildfires bigger and more serious. Air quality, COVID-19 pandemics, seasonal viruses, and health inequalities intersect to exacerbate health effects.

According to Konron, climate change poses multiple risks. Heat, drought, wildfire, Air quality It poses its own risks and can multiply with each other.

“Everyone is exposed to these risks, but some are more than others,” Konron said. “In an air-conditioned office, when you’re doing a sedentary job with filtered air, the heat and air quality is worse than when you’re working hard outdoors by hand.”

To address these challenges, you need to tackle many issues at once. To mitigate the health effects of wildfires, the health needs of all affected people must be met.

“Public health and prevention are key,” Hauser said.

“Wake up to a wildfire”

In Wake Up to Wildfires, filmmaker Paige Biama tells the story of the people most affected by the 2017 North Bay Wildfire.Hear from survivors, firefighters and the general public health Officials, community groups, and scientists trying to understand them all.

Natural exposure to wildfire smoke increased rhesus monkey pregnancy loss

Quote: What are the health effects of wildfire smoke? (October 15, 2021) Obtained October 15, 2021 from https: //

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What are the health effects of wildfire smoke?

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