Wildfires have produced dense smoke pollution while scorching vast areas of the West, exposing millions to dangerous pollution. This caused increased emergency room cases and potential deaths of thousands of infirm and elderly.
Effects of Smoke on Health
This was revealed by pollution data analysis released by Associated Press, combined with interviews with researchers, health authorities, and physicians. High smoke concentrations cause grave risks, enshrouding counties of five states where over eight million live.
Oregon has suffered the most pollution, as powerful winds fed fires from remote locations and brought them to areas in Portland where dense populations reside.
Martin Johnson, a Salem, Marion county pulmonologist, said that patients who have respiratory issues came to his hospital almost as soon as the smoke came. Many of them found it hard to breathe. The area had eight days of hazardous smoke.
Permanent lung function loss may occur in some patients, according to Johnson. Other victims may have died from problems like heart attacks caused by the low quality of air; these deaths will unfortunately not be associated with the smoke.
According to Stanford University researchers, in California, as high as 3,000 individuals above 65 years old had premature death from smoke exposure since August 1. In Washington, hundreds may have died from the same cause, say scientists from the University of Washington.
Smoke scientist Shawn Urbanski says that particles from the smoke cause respiratory issues, and the volume produced is ten times higher than those coming from industrial activities or vehicle emissions.
Over a million tons of particles have been released from 2012 to 2017, with almost the same amount in 2018 alone. In the latter, a Paradise, California fire burned 14,000 residences and killed 85, blanketing parts of northern California with thick smoke that lasted weeks.
Higher Intensity of Fires
Wildfires regularly occur in the West, but they have become more dangerous and intense with climate change, as forests become drier. More fuel is present due to decades spent suppressing fires.
Other events increased the effects of the smoke. Coastal winds fueled the fires, and an inversion of the weather in Oregon trapped the smoke and caused it to linger for many days. In San Francisco, the smoke caused an orange, eerie pall over one city.
Several People Affected.
A minimum of 38 million residents was affected by the smoke. In California, 25 million were exposed. In Washington, the number was 7.2 million; in Oregon, 3.5 million; in Idaho, 1 million; and in Montana, 299,000 people.
According to scientists, smoke exposure caused a decrease in lung function, higher flu rates, and weakening immune systems. Erin Landguth, a professor at the University of Montana, says that particulates in the lungs can enter the bloodstream and cause adverse effects.
According to the Oregon Health Authority environmental health manager Gabriela Goldfarb, air pollution causes higher infection rates and higher symptom severity in COVID-19 patients.
Effects of the Climate Crisis
According to climate experts, North Rockies and West Coast residents should prepare for even more smoke, because drought and higher temperatures cause more fires that are larger and have higher intensity.
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