U.S. isn’t ready for the next wildfire smoke wave. Here’s what needs to change

When wildfires cause dangerous air pollution in cities and towns across the country, public health officials are urging residents to stay indoors, close windows, and use air filters. A new study from Stanford University shows that while Americans are responding to the message, they still do little to keep smoke out of their homes.

Satellite measurements show a rapid increase in exposure to heavy smoke on most U.S. maps between 2011 and 2020, according to NOAA analysts. Points refer to EPA ground-based contaminants. (Image credit burke et al. 2022, Nature Human Behavior)

The researchers, led by Marshall Burke, an associate professor of Earth Sciences, analyzed consumer-level pollutants in 1,520 single-family homes across the U.S. and nearby outdoor air pollution monitors, cell phones, social media posts, and data. Google searches in English and Spanish between 2016 and 2020.

Regardless of income, the search for air quality information during heavy smoke days has increased, with air purifiers, smoke masks and other health officials’ recommended precautions only in affluent neighborhoods. Residents of affluent neighborhoods are more likely to take shelter in their homes when wildfires are exposed to the elements. “People seem to know that they are being exposed. “Even at low levels of smoke exposure, we see a lot of changes, although the reactions are socio-economic,” Birk said.

The results, published July 7, Human nature, Better education and information about the health risks of wildfires show that they are not enough to protect people from the health risks of exposure to wildfires. The findings provide evidence for early-stage efforts to take a more active and strategic approach to addressing public health risks, which is one of the major causes of climate change in the country.

Although most current government policies are based on self-propelled barges to remove unhealthy air from wildfires, the authors write that they have “moderate and unequal benefits.” Short-term solutions include the establishment of clean air shelters and the provision of public subsidies to purify indoor air for low-income families. “If people can’t maintain good air quality in their homes, they need a place to breathe fresh air,” said Burke, deputy director of the Stanford Center for Food Security and Environmental Protection. “This is a great place to start.”

Indoor PM 2.5 Focus on an unprecedented wildfire in the San Francisco Bay Area in August-September 2020. Clear lines indicate the focus on each dwelling and thick lines indicate the average in each group, indicating significant differences in household exposure during wildfires. (Image credit burke et al. 2022, Nature Human Behavior)

Leaking houses

In general, the authors report that the most lethal pollution pollution known as PM 2.5 is usually three to four times higher than public health guidelines and can vary by 20 times between neighboring households during heavy smoke days. “Families that looked the same in terms of income, house price, and house size had very different indoor air for a certain amount of outdoor air quality,” said study co-author Sam Heft-Nell, a research center researcher. Safety and environment. According to the authors, the most likely culprits are open doors and windows, leaking buildings and a lack of screening.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, high and low cost hackers are geographically mixed. (Image credit burke et al. 2022, Nature Human Behavior)

With the rising number of heavy smoke days in California and the West, lawmakers from several Western states have introduced bills to allow the president to declare a “smoke emergency,” to establish clean air shelters, and relocate vulnerable people. And create a local community planning assistance program related to wildfires. No law was enacted.

“In order to intervene properly, we need to be able to measure things, including people’s behavior and behavior in their homes,” Burke said. This capability is growing rapidly, with relatively low-cost but reliable air quality monitors from PurpleAir acquiring the data and agreeing to view it on a public website – even though the family of the controller is now, in excess of California, and higher incomes. “Our ability to accurately measure intrusion at the family level and relate it to our perceptions of the home or community,” says Burke.

At the federal level, in the absence of systematic support, local and regional mitigation efforts have been made. For example, the Oregon Environmental Protection Agency has provided funding for a free air distribution program for vulnerable residents of Ashland. The state has launched a $ 5 million pilot program in California, where more than half of the population faces a month of wildfires during the 2020 fire.

Still, most areas are not better prepared for healthy weather this year than 2020, and as more fires increase, it will be harder for people to protect themselves. “We have dug a big hole in our forests with the accumulated dry oil. It requires unprecedented investment standards to reduce fires and reduce the risk of smoke exposure for all. “In the meantime, sadly, we have to be prepared for the big fire that is about to hit us. And we need to be prepared to deal with the low winds that those wildfires generate.

Burke is a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for Environmental Protection, the Freeman Spagley Institute for International Studies, and the Stanford Economic Policy Research Institute. They are also faculty researchers at the Bureau of National Economic Research. Co-authors Jessica Lee, Ann Driscol and Matthew Stigler are affiliated with the Stanford Center for Food Security and Environmental Protection. Co-author Marisa Childrens is linked to the Stanford Emmet Interdisciplinary Program on Environment and Property. Additional associate authors are affiliated with the University of British Columbia; University of California, Davis; And University of California, San Diego.

This study is supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Stanford Public Health Science Center.

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