Wildfire smoke from Canada poses health risks on East Coast

June 7, 2023 – Wildfire smoke blowing from Canada to the East Coast could have a range of negative health effects, according to experts at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Francesca Dominici, Clarence James Gamble Professor of Biostatistics, Population, and Data Science, was one of the experts quoted in a June 2 article in the Washington Post. She said that smoke particles from wildfires are particularly harmful compared to other sources, since wildfires burn household materials such as plastics and batteries that give off toxins. The particles can be breathed into the lungs and enter the bloodstream, leading to coughing, difficulty breathing, and asthma exacerbation.

Dominici said that certain populations are more vulnerable to smoke exposure, including the elderly, young children, people with preexisting respiratory or cardiovascular diseases, and people who are pregnant. Additionally, poor people of color often cannot evacuate or afford filtration equipment, she noted.

According to Dominici, the federal government’s recommendations for maximum smoke exposure levels are not protective enough. “The evidence says that they should be as low as possible and that there is not a ‘safe’ level,” she said.

Dominici was also quoted in a June 6 article in Heat Map, along with Kimberly Humphrey, a visiting scholar at the FXB Center for Health & Human Rights and Climate Change and Human Health Fellow at the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment. Dominici and Humphrey both recommended that people should limit smoke exposure by staying indoors, particularly when exercising.

Humphrey said that similar to COVID, wearing masks can offer protection. “We’d recommend a really high-quality mask like an N95 because it does filter out those very, very tiny particles and offers really good protection,” she said.

Read the Washington Post article: Wildfire smoke is hitting the East Coast. How bad is it for your health?

Read the Heat Map article: How to Prepare for Wildfire Smoke, According to Doctors at Harvard

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