Wildfire season is upon us. How it can impact your health and what you can do

The leader of the Healthy Air Campaign for the American Lung Association, Laura Kate Bender, was recently interviewed on PBS NewsHour regarding the severe health risks posed by wildfire smoke. 

Bender highlighted that smoke, even from wildfires hundreds of miles away, contains fine particle pollution and harmful chemicals, particularly when it burns through structures like homes and cars. These particles can penetrate deep into the lungs and even enter the bloodstream, leading to serious health consequences such as burning eyes, throat irritation, coughing, exacerbations of asthma and COPD, heart attacks, strokes, and premature death

Wood smoke from any source–wildfires, fireplaces, wood stoves, or prescribed (intentional) grassland or forest burns–is probably the most toxic type of air pollution the average person ever inhales, because the particles are uniquely small and saturated with heavy metals and hazardous chemicals.

Ways to protect yourself from wildfire smoke include: monitoring air quality (we recommend personal monitors from PurpleAir), using air purifiers, and avoiding outdoor activities during smoke events. Because the harm from pollution is caused by inflammation from free radicals, a healthy diet with plenty of antioxidants can help reduce the inflammation. For some people, a baby aspirin may also be appropriate (ask your doctor).

We disagree with the American Lung Association on their recent report that prescribed or controlled burns can help make wildfires less likely. But multiple studies have found that not only do they not work, they can backfire (pardon the pun), and they still release their own toxic pollution, so the public is just exposed to more pollution overall. See this presentation I did with Dr. Chad Hanson of the John Muir Project, on why citizens should demand this program of chain saw, bonfire, and pesticide forest management be overturned: Malpractice in Utah Forests

A recent Forest Service survey found that northern Utah residents understand the “malpractice” of prescribed burns. Their report writes “ In Ashland, Ore, 5 percent of respondents found prescribed burns “not at all acceptable” but in Wasatch (Utah), attitudes are quite different: 25% of people were completely opposed. In Oregon, 52% considered prescribed burns “extremely acceptable,” but only 11% did in Wasatch. We believe this difference is because UPHE has been publicly fighting this misguided forest management practice by the US Forest Service.