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Estimated mortality and morbidity attributable to smoke plumes in the US: not just a western US problem

Author(s): Katelyn O'Dell, Kelsey Bilsback, Bonne Ford, Sheena E. Martenies, Sheryl Magzamen, Emily V. Fischer, Jeffrey R. Pierce
Year Published: 2021

As anthropogenic emissions continue to decline and emissions from landscape (wild, prescribed, and agricultural) fires increase across the coming century, the relative importance of landscape-fire smoke on air quality and health in the United States (US) will increase. Landscape fires are a large source of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), which has known negative impacts on human health. The seasonal and spatial distribution, particle composition, and co-emitted species in landscape-fire emissions are different from anthropogenic sources of PM2.5. The implications of landscape-fire emissions on the sub-national temporal and spatial distribution of health events and the relative health importance of specific pollutants within smoke are not well understood. We use a health impact assessment with observation-based smoke PM2.5 to determine the sub-national distribution of mortality and the sub-national and sub-annual distribution of asthma morbidity attributable to US smoke PM2.5 from 2006-2018. We estimate disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) for PM2.5 and 18 gas-phase hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) in smoke. Although the majority of large landscape fires occur in the western US, we find the majority of mortality (74%) and asthma morbidity (on average 75% across 2006-2018) attributable to smoke PM2.5 occurs outside the West, due to higher population density in the East. Across the US, smoke-attributable asthma morbidity predominantly occurs in spring and summer. The number of DALYs associated with smoke PM2.5 is approximately three orders of magnitude higher than DALYs associated with gas-phase smoke HAPs. Our results indicate awareness and mitigation of landscape-fire smoke exposure is important across the US.

Citation: O’Dell, Katelyn; Bilsback, Kelsey; Ford, Bonne; Martenies, Sheena E.; Magzamen, Sheryl; Fischer, Emily V.; Pierce, Jeffrey R. 2021. Estimated mortality and morbidity attributable to smoke plumes in the US: not just a western US problem. GeoHealth 5(9):e2021GH000457 https://doi.org/10.1029/2021GH000457
Topic(s): Smoke & Air Quality, Smoke Emissions
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
Hot Topic(s): Smoke and Human Health
NRFSN number: 23688
FRAMES RCS number: 64315
Record updated: Oct 19, 2021