Estimating the acute health impacts of fire-originated PM2.5 exposure during the 2017 California wildfires: sensitivity to choices of inputs
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Stephanie E. Cleland; Marc L. Serre; Ana G. Rappold; J. Jason West
Publication Year: 2021

Cataloging Information

  • air pollution
  • fine particulate matter
  • health impacts
  • health risk assessment
  • hospital admissions
  • PM2.5
  • population exposure
  • wildfire smoke
  • wildfire smoke exposure
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: July 1, 2021
FRAMES Record Number: 63751


Exposure to wildfire smoke increases the risk of respiratory and cardiovascular hospital admissions. Health impact assessments, used to inform decision-making processes, characterize the health impacts of environmental exposures by combining preexisting epidemiological concentration-response functions (CRFs) with estimates of exposure. These two key inputs influence the magnitude and uncertainty of the health impacts estimated, but for wildfire-related impact assessments the extent of their impact is largely unknown. We first estimated the number of respiratory, cardiovascular, and asthma hospital admissions attributable to fire-originated PM2.5 exposure in central California during the October 2017 wildfires, using Monte Carlo simulations to quantify uncertainty with respect to the exposure and epidemiological inputs. We next conducted sensitivity analyses, comparing four estimates of fire-originated PM2.5 and two CRFs, wildfire- and non-wildfire-specific, to understand their impact on the estimation of excess admissions and sources of uncertainty. We estimate the fires accounted for an excess 240 (95% CI: 114, 404) respiratory, 68 (95% CI: -10, 159) cardiovascular, and 45 (95% CI: 18, 81) asthma hospital admissions, with 56% of admissions occurring in the Bay Area. Although differences between impact assessment methods are not statistically significant, the admissions estimates’ magnitude is particularly sensitive to the CRF specified while the uncertainty is most sensitive to estimates of fire-originated PM2.5. Not accounting for the exposure surface's uncertainty leads to an underestimation of the uncertainty of the health impacts estimated. Employing context-specific CRFs and using accurate exposure estimates that combine multiple data sets generates more certain estimates of the acute health impacts of wildfires.

Online Link(s):
Cleland, Stephanie E.; Serre, Marc L.; Rappold, Ana G.; West, J. Jason. 2021. Estimating the acute health impacts of fire-originated PM2.5 exposure during the 2017 California wildfires: sensitivity to choices of inputs. GeoHealth 5(7):e2021GH000414.