California Wildfires Harming People Far Beyond Flames’ Reach

Heart, lung diseases are worsened by smoke

(Rachel Becker, The Verge) California is besieged by 22 wildfires that have incinerated more than 265 square miles and killed at least 29 people.

“If there’s smoke in the atmosphere, it affects the whole body.” PHOTO: CGP Grey, CC

Smoke and ash blanket the Bay Area in a layer of haze responsible for the worst air quality on record.

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The smoke has prompted local schools to close, and reduced visibility at airports so much that flights were delayed, or canceled.

For people who have asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or heart conditions, just breathing this noxious air can be dangerous.

“If there’s smoke in the atmosphere, it affects the whole body,” says Sarah Henderson, professor of public health at the University of British Columbia. “The basic message is that forest fire smoke is not good for you.”

“These smoke events are unpredictable and episodic,” says public health professor Michael Brauer, also at UBC.

“So it’s hard to gather a study population that you know is going to be exposed, for example.”

People with these diseases need to evacuate to clean air

But there are a few things we know for certain, like that wildfire smoke kills people, for example.

It’s also harmful to lungs: people wind up filling more prescriptions for asthma medication and visiting the ER for asthma attacks during wildfires, according to an analysis of 350 individual studies.

The review also showed that wildfire smoke generally worsens chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, bronchitis, and pneumonia.

Brauer says that smoke protection will also need to happen at the community level to keep people safe.

“Running air filters indoors, or even at a community level making sure there are clean air shelters, those kinds of things do seem to work,” Brauer says.

“It’s really at the point where we just need to accept this, and make sure we’re well prepared for it.” READ THE FULL STORY AT THE  VERGE. Also of interest: Deadly Hepatitis-A Spreads California-Wide