"Fields and Forests in Flames: Vegetation Smoke and Human Health"

The smoke from wildfires can have harmful effects on human health, especially for children, seniors, and the chronically ill.

"People have lived for tens of thousands of years in the presence of smoke from fires. That long period of adaptation tends to allow healthy younger adults in today’s environments to be generally resistant to serious adverse health effects from smoke from sources such as wildfires, prescribed forest burns, agricultural field burns, and peat bog fires, says Wayne Cascio, director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Environmental Public Health Division.

But a high percentage of people aren’t young, healthy adults. In the United States, nearly half the population suffers from at least one chronic illness,1 potentially placing them at risk for adverse effects from exposure to fire smoke. Children and older adults also are considered more vulnerable to smoke’s effects.2 The limited health research that’s been done on smoke from large-scale fires has provided some refinements to these general categories of vulnerable people, and new information occasionally emerges. There also has been a trickle of information identifying the toxic substances that characterize smoke from various kinds of fires, and pinning down the specific body systems that are vulnerable and the pathways through which damage occurs."

Bob Weinhold reports for Environmental Health Perspectives September 1, 2011.

Source: EHP, 09/02/2011