SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — In the coming decades, residents of three Bay Area counties are at the highest risk of exposure to dangerous levels of pollution from wildfires, which can cause illnesses, according to researchers at Harvard and Yale universities.
According to their study, residents of San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties will be at the greatest risk of exposure to the harmful smoke and the effects of climate change.
Air pollution from the Fort McMurray fire this year in Alberta, Canada caused respiratory illnesses in people as far away as Michigan, more than 1,000 miles away, according to the researchers.
Smoke contains fine particles that can stay in the air for hundreds of miles, and as climate change results in more wildfires and more severe ones, more communities will be susceptible to the dangerous smoke.
Researchers have had a difficult time understanding who will be affected the most by smoke from wildfires caused by climate change.
But the researchers used a fire prediction model and advanced atmospheric modeling to identify smoke specifically from wildfires and track it’s likely movement.
Two or more consecutive days of unhealthy levels of smoke the researchers call “smoke waves,” a new term they coined.
The scientists found that across the West climate change will cause smoke waves to be more frequent and more intense.
Between 2004 and 2009, 57 million people in the western U.S. were affected by a smoke wave, according to the researchers. Between 2046 and 2051, that number will increase to 82 million people, including 13 million more children and seniors.
The research is described in more detail in the journal Climate Change.