Particulate air pollution from wildfires in the Western US under climate change
- 2.1k Downloads
Wildfire can impose a direct impact on human health under climate change. While the potential impacts of climate change on wildfires and resulting air pollution have been studied, it is not known who will be most affected by the growing threat of wildfires. Identifying communities that will be most affected will inform development of fire management strategies and disaster preparedness programs. We estimate levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) directly attributable to wildfires in 561 western US counties during fire seasons for the present-day (2004–2009) and future (2046–2051), using a fire prediction model and GEOS-Chem, a 3-D global chemical transport model. Future estimates are obtained under a scenario of moderately increasing greenhouse gases by mid-century. We create a new term “Smoke Wave,” defined as ≥2 consecutive days with high wildfire-specific PM2.5, to describe episodes of high air pollution from wildfires. We develop an interactive map to demonstrate the counties likely to suffer from future high wildfire pollution events. For 2004–2009, on days exceeding regulatory PM2.5 standards, wildfires contributed an average of 71.3 % of total PM2.5. Under future climate change, we estimate that more than 82 million individuals will experience a 57 % and 31 % increase in the frequency and intensity, respectively, of Smoke Waves. Northern California, Western Oregon and the Great Plains are likely to suffer the highest exposure to widlfire smoke in the future. Results point to the potential health impacts of increasing wildfire activity on large numbers of people in a warming climate and the need to establish or modify US wildfire management and evacuation programs in high-risk regions. The study also adds to the growing literature arguing that extreme events in a changing climate could have significant consequences for human health.
KeywordsFire Season Wildfire Event Wildfire Management Wildfire Activity Wildfire Smoke
We received funding support from NIH/NIEHS R21 ES022585-01 (Dominici); NIH R01 ES019560 (Peng); NIH R21 ES020152 (Peng); NIH R21 ES024012 (Zanobetti); NIH R21 ES021427 (Bell); NIH/NIEHS R01 ES024332 (Zanobetti), and the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
- Ammann H, Blaisdell R, Lipsett M, Stone SL, Therriault S (2001) Wildfire smoke: a guide for public health officialsGoogle Scholar
- Interagency Working Group on Climate Change and Health (2010) A human health perspective on climate change: a report outlining the research needs on the human health effects of climate changeGoogle Scholar
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (2001) Working group I: the scientific basisGoogle Scholar
- Krawchuk MA, Moritz MA, Parisien MA, Van Dorn J, Hayhoe K (2009) Global pyrogeography: the current and future distribution of wildfire. PLoS One 4Google Scholar
- Liu JC, Mickley LJ, Sulprizio MP, Yue X, Dominici F, Bell ML (2016) Exposure to wildfire-specific fine particulate matter and risk of Hospital Admissions in urban and rural Counties in the Western US 2004–2009 Epidemiology (Cambridge, Mass.) (accepted)Google Scholar
- Meehl GA, Stocker TF (2007) Global climate projections. Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis: 747–845Google Scholar
- Moore D, Copes R, Fisk R, Joy R, Chan K, Brauer M (2006) Population health effects of air quality changes due to forest fires in British Columbia in 2003: estimates from physician-visit billing data. Canadian J Public Health = Revue canadienne de sante publique 97:105–108Google Scholar
- Phuleria HC, Fine PM, Zhu YF, Sioutas C (2005) Air quality impacts of the October 2003 Southern California wildfires. J Geophys Res-Atmos 110Google Scholar
- Spracklen DV, Logan JA, Mickley LJ, Park RJ, Yevich R, Westerling AL, Jaffe DA (2007) Wildfires drive interannual variability of organic carbon aerosol in the western US in summer. Geophys Res Lett 34Google Scholar
- Spracklen DV, Mickley LJ, Logan JA, Hudman RC, Yevich R, Flannigan MD, Westerling AL (2009) Impacts of climate change from 2000 to 2050 on wildfire activity and carbonaceous aerosol concentrations in the western United States. J Geophys Res-Atmos 114Google Scholar
- US Census (2005) Age and sex composition in the United States: 2005. Table 1.1. PopulationGoogle Scholar
- US Census National Population Projections (2012) 2012 National population projections: summary tables. Table 1. Projections of the population and components of change for the United States: 2015 to 2060 (Middle Series)Google Scholar
- US Environmental Protection Agency (2011a) About ICLUS. pp. https://www.epa.gov/iclus/about-iclus
- US Environmental Protection Agency (2011b) ICLUS tools and datasets (Version 1.3 & 1.3.1)Google Scholar