Smoke & Populations
Exceptional events occur when air pollution in a specific location exceeds the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) due to an event that cannot be reasonably attributed to human activities, such as a wildland fire. Ground-level ozone (O3) and particulate matter (PM) are Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) criteria pollutants regulated under the NAAQS. Smoke from wildland fires can increase PM and O3 concentrations downwind of fire and impact air quality, visibility, and health. Our analysis shows that the frequency of exceptional event reporting for PM with aerodynamic diameters smaller than 2.5 μm or 10 μm (PM2.5 and PM10) had increased since 2007 when the air quality standards became more stringent. We also show that wildland fires and windblown dust drive many exceptional events in several EPA regions. We note the importance of growth in the number of exceptional event days due to wildfire smoke in the future due to climate change and point to possible changes to the NAAQS and implementations.