Pollution from Wildfires – a Piece of the Climate Crisis
ABC 4 TV contacted UPHE this morning and asked us to write a message on the pollution we are experiencing from the wildfires.
“Because there is a higher concentration of damaging chemicals in wood smoke, and many of the particles are smaller, allowing them to be more easily inhaled, picked up by the bloodstream, and delivered throughout the body, causing biologic stress wherever they end up,” said Dr. Moench. “And that can be in the heart, brain, kidneys, and even the placenta of a pregnant mother.”
Read full story below or at this link: https://www.abc4.com/news/salt-lake-city-ranked-as-one-of-the-worst-cities-for-air-quality-in-the-world-utah-doctor-weighs-in/
The wildfire air pollution we all see, smell, and breathe, is directly related to the climate crisis and the record breaking heat and drought that has plagued the Western United States for most of this summer, and in fact for many years. Unfortunately, summer wildfires are becoming increasingly the norm, and summer air quality may become even worse than our notorious winter inversions.
Pollution from wildfires may look and feel much like our winter inversion pollution, and the health effects are certainly similar. But it may be even worse, because there is a higher concentration of damaging chemicals in wood smoke, and many of the particles are smaller, allowing them to be more easily inhaled, picked up by the blood stream, and delivered throughout the body, causing biologic stress wherever they end up. And that can be in the heart, brain, kidneys and even the placenta of a pregnant mother.
Virtually the entire long list of diseases we know are caused by smoking cigarettes, are either caused or exacerbated by air pollution, including: lung diseases of virtually every type, like chronic bronchitis, asthma, and pneumonia; heart diseases, including abnormal rhythms, and heart failure; blood vessel and clotting disorders that cause heart attacks and strokes; brain disorders, including acute and chronic memory and cognition impairment, Alzheimer’s, and other neurologic disorders like Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis; pregnancy complications like premature birth, hypertension, and still births; chromosomal damage and impaired fetal development, like birth defects; cancer, including lung cancer, breast cancer, and childhood leukemia; decreased kidney function, endocrine disorders like type II diabetes, and arthritis.
The biologic and disease consequences can persist long after an air pollution event is over. For example, the pollution particles we are inhaling now, can still be embedded in any of our critical organs months later, and some may never leave.
The average person’s life expectancy is shortened by their exposure to air pollution, even if they have no overt symptoms from it, or none of the diseases known to be caused by it. Just like there is no safe number of cigarettes a person can smoke, there is no safe level of air pollution a person can breathe. Hundreds of studies have shown that even the low levels of pollution present on a “good” air quality day, are still causing silent damage to our health and accelerating the aging process.
In the era of a pandemic we have even more reason to be concerned. Several studies have shown that air pollution significantly increases the risk of a poor or fatal outcome from the coronavirus.
Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment advise that people take as many precautions as possible to protect themselves from this wildfire pollution. Stay indoors and use air purifiers to improve indoor air quality. For your own sake and that of your neighbors, don’t barbecue. Not only does barbecuing increase the pollution you inhale, it significantly increases toxic chemicals that you absorb through your skin and clothes. Don’t exercise in pollution levels this high. If possible, don’t add to the pollution by driving your car. Eat healthy, with plenty of anti-oxidant rich foods.
Long term, look at how we make public policy, and support political leaders who take our air pollution problem and the climate crisis seriously, and want to make them better.