Wildfire smoke may be leading cause of air quality decline

October 4, 2022 – The number of people experiencing an “extreme smoke day”—a day with unhealthy air quality because of dangerous smoke—has jumped 27-fold over the past decade, according to a new study.

The research looked at U.S. levels of fine particulate air pollution from 2006 through 2020. Fine particulate pollution has been linked to chronic heart and lung conditions, cognitive decline, depression, and premature birth. The study was led by Marissa Childs while she was earning a PhD from Stanford. Childs is currently an environmental fellow at the Harvard University Center for the Environment, working with experts from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“People may be less likely to notice days with a modest increase in fine particulate matter from smoke, but those days can still have an impact on people’s health,” said Childs in a September 22 New York Times article. The study showed that, from 2016 to 2020, more than 1.5 million people, particularly in the Western U.S., were routinely exposed to risky levels of smoke.

The study looked at data both from satellites and from ground-level monitors, isolating wildfire smoke from other types of pollution. The findings suggest that although pollution from other sources has decreased in recent decades, the uptick in wildfire smoke may be reversing that progress.

Read the New York Times article: Wildfire Smoke Is Erasing Progress on Clean Air