As the smoke travels through the atmosphere, it can actually formnew chemical hazards over time, like ozone, which exacerbates asthma. The biggest health impacts are definitely from the particulate matter, says Rebecca Hornbrook, an atmospheric chemist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who hasflown planes through wildfire smoke to study its components. But there are a lot of things that are omitted that are on the EPAs list of dangerous chemicals.
Wildfire smoke can cause immediate health effects, like heart attacks, stroke, and bronchitis, particularly in more vulnerable people with respiratory issues, and can be threatening to pregnant women. These single exposure events can be really devastating to people with preexisting conditions, says Shahir Masri, an air pollution scientist at the University of California, Irvine.
Exposure to this kind of pollution can also weaken the immune system.A 2021study found that Covid19 cases and deaths in California, Oregon, and Washington the previous year were exacerbated by increases in fine particulate air pollution from wildfire smoke. Whether its Covid or any other virus, this is a time to avoid not only exposure to fine outdoor matter, but also really trying not to get sick, says Francesca Dominici, a professor of biostatistics, population, and data science at the Harvard T.H.
Climate change and human meddling in the landscape have combined to make wildfires bigger and more intense, big enough to send clouds of toxic smoke not only from Canada to the East Coast, but across whole continents. Climate change is acting as a performance enhancer It’s exacerbating what is a natural rhythm, says Pyne. There’s no reason to think that those trends will suddenly stop.
Its a global problem now, says Mary Prunicki, director of air pollution and health research at Stanford Universitys Sean N.
The number of fires for this time of year has only increased slightly above the average, but the size of the fires and the intensity of fires has significantly increased, says Mike Flannigan, a professor of wildland fire at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia.
In other words East Coast, welcome to the Pyrocene, or theAge of Flames, as fire historian Stephen Pyne calls it.