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Clim Change. 2016 Oct;138(3):655-666. doi: 10.1007/s10584-016-1762-6. Epub 2016 Jul 30.

Particulate Air Pollution from Wildfires in the Western US under Climate Change.

Author information

1
School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, 195 Prospect Street, New Haven, CT, USA, 06511.
2
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, 29 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA, USA, 02138.
3
Department of Biostatistics, T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University, Building II, Room 441, 655 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA, USA, 02115.
4
Department of Environmental & Radiological Health Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Colorado State University, 146 Environmental Health Building, Fort Collins, CO, USA, 80521.
5
School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA, 48109.

Abstract

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.

KEYWORDS:

PM2.5; air pollution; climate change; wildfire

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