OAKLAND (KPIX) — We know the smoke from wildfires is bad. Now we know more about how bad it is. A new study released Friday shows wildfire smoke is much more hazardous than other common forms of air pollution.
Tom Corringham Ph.D. and fellow researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego looked at 14 years of air quality and hospital admissions data in Southern California. Their report showed wildfire smoke is up to 10 times more harmful than air pollution from car exhaust, factories or power plants.
“Our study is the first to show an effect at the population level,” Dr. Corringham said. “These are significant impacts that extend beyond just the area of the fire and have wide-reaching implications.”
Corringham said wildfires often release tiny particles called PM 2.5 that are much smaller in diameter than a human hair. PM 2.5 particles can enter lungs and the bloodstream and can cause significant harm by aggravating chronic lung and heart conditions, triggering asthma attacks, strokes and heart attacks.
When smoke blanketed the Bay Area on Sept. 9, 2020 turning the skies orange, many people complained of sore throats, watery eyes and other problems.
“That day when it was really orange skies, I was tired. So it felt like it took energy,” said Oakland resident Susan Garner.
“I sort of have mild asthma and so even to try to run a little bit with the smoke was very exhausting for my lungs,” said Oakland resident Sophie Wayman.
Given the changing climate, researchers said lawmakers need to focus even more on fire prevention.
Vincent Crudele is the assistant fire marshal with the Oakland fire department’s fire-prevention bureau. He was not surprised by the research findings.
“It brings another level of education to the public to understand these are the dangers we face on a routine and regular basis,” Crudele said.
The researchers of the new study also talked about the importance for the government to provide rebates so low-income families can afford to buy home air filters and air purifiers during the fire season.
Some Oakland firefighters spent Friday placing large logs to block off lookout points in the Oakland Hills.
“Part of our fire prevention and fuels mitigation program,” said Crudele.
He said illegal fireworks and campfires at lookouts in the hills caused a lot of problems last summer. The fire department also deploys thousands of grazing goats each year. Other departments use controlled burns to reduce fuel.