STANFORD, Calif. (KRON) – As wildfires burn the state, all the smoke is becoming a bigger problem. It comes with serious health consequences.
Wildfire smoke is a growing component of air pollution and as we’ve seen over the last month, it’s become a major component in the air quality here in the western United States.
10-20 years ago, about 5-10 percent of the particulate matter in the air nationwide was from wildfire smoke.
In recent years that number has increased to 25 percent and when you look at the western part of the United States, it can be 50 percent or more.
So a question many of us are asking is, “how much should we be worried about the short and long term health impacts of the wildfire smoke we’ve been seeing?”
Experts say that while any amount of wildfire smoke inhalation is unhealthy for all age groups, it’s particularly dangerous for pregnant women, infants, and children.
You see weaker immune systems and higher rates of asthma in infants that are exposed to wildfire smoke. Studies show that even five days of wildfire exposure for an infant increases the rate of asthma by about two-fold.
It can even impact a baby’s health in the womb – there are high rates of prematurity and a decreased birth rate – even after just a week of wildfire exposure.
“Studies are still being done at Stanford to fully determine the health impacts of smoke exposure especially with regard to chronic vs acute exposure to pollution,” Dr. Kari Nadeau, professor of pediatric medicine at Stanford School of Medicine, said.
Dr. Nadeau says that the same changes in the immune systems of people chronically exposed to a low level pollution were very similar to those acutely exposed.
She went on to say that the acute exposure could include irreversible effects – so you can’t assume that you can’t suffer serious impacts simply because air pollution may be bad for a few days.
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