Smoke Health Effects Research


Wildland Fire Smoke Health Effects Research and Tools to Inform Public Health Policy and Recommendations

This four hour workshop was organized and presented during the April 2015 International Wildland Fire conference in Boise Idaho. During the workshop experts discussed new science on health impacts of smoke and opportunities to further inform and support development of health policy and recommendations. The workshop included presentations from researchers at the USDA Forest Service, the US Environmental Protection Agency, US Centers for Disease Control, and the British Columbia CDC. The first part of the workshop discussed new and emerging health research to inform public health policy. The second part of the workshop focused on guidelines and recommendations to reduce the public health impacts of smoke exposure, and the new tools for estimating smoke exposure and forecasting.

Workshop Information and Summary (PDF file)

Workshop Presentations

Cascio_workshop.jpg Health Effects of Wildfire Smoke Need for Research and Application (Dr. Wayne Cascio) An overview of the occupational, clinical and epidemiologic evidence of smoke related health effects. The presentation illustrates common biological pathways to adverse health outcomes possibly shared between smoke and other sources of air pollution and identified the areas of further research needs; in population and occupational settings, the need to better understand the toxicology of smoke, and the need to develop and adopt new technologies to improve communications and protect public health during smoke episodes (PDF file).
Rappold_workshop.jpg Simulation of Forecast-Based Interventions to Reduce the Health and Economic Burden During a Wildfire Episode & Estimating Smoke Burden and Novel Tools to Manage Impacts in Population (Dr. Ana G. Rappld) A recent study of simulated forecast-based interventions as a tool to reduce the health and economic burden during smoke episodes. The study illustrated a large health burden associated with these events and the potential benefit an adaptation of current forecasting technologies could bring to the affected communities (PDF file).
Domitrovich_workshop.jpg Wildland Firefighter Smoke Exposure (Dr. Joe Domitrovich) Presenting research showing that firefighters experience great variability in exposures to smoke depending on the type and duration of tasks performed and atmospheric conditions. The greatest exposures were associated with direct attack, line holding, and burnout activities. Only a portion of firefighters were exposed to CO levels in excess of NIOSH safety limits across the duration of the shift, however a number of periods of short exposures to high concentrations were observed within shifts punctuated with clean air periods which rapidly mitigated these high exposures (PDF file).
Gilmour_workshop.jpg The Role of Composition and Particle Size on the Toxicity of Wildfire Emissions (Dr. Ian Gilmour) Presentation on the background of the proposed research plan recently funded by a JFSP grant. His research is focused on determining the role of composition and particle size on the toxicity of wildfire emissions. Dr. Gilmour presented a state of the art system designed to entrain or collect smoke from biomass combustion and deliver it to rodents to determine differential toxicity between fuel types (PDF file).
ONeill_1_workshop.jpg State of Smoke Models (Dr.s Sim Larkin and Susan O'Neill)Presentation outlining recent advances in the development of smoke modeling. This included a brief discussion of the effectiveness of different smoke model approaches and some examples from the 2014 wildfire season using BlueSky Framework (PDF file).
ONeill_2_workshop.jpg Air Quality and Visual Range - A Story. (Dr. Susan O'Neill) Presentation on recent advances in the estimation of visual range. The use of visual range as a public health communication tool raised interest by many in the group and stimulated a discussion. Visual range is a fairly inexpensive tool for communication of exposure and could be linked to simple health messaging program. However, visual range also has a number of uncertainties associated with it, including the impact of humidity and haze on visual range, which impacts its utility in various geographical areas differently (PDF).
Garbe_workshop.jpg Public Health Communications During Wildfire Events (Dr. Paul Garbe) Presentation discussing challenges in communication during smoke events. Dr. Garbe discussed the importance of local response, and experience, as well as keeping flexible messaging and keeping the message “new” across fire seasons (PDF file).
Stone_workshop.jpg Wildfire Smoke: Guide for Public Health Officials Upcoming Revisions (Susan Lyon Stone) A discussion on revisions to US Wildfire Guide for Public Health Officials and solicitation for ideas for further revisions. The revised guide will include federal, state and local agencies and will reflect recent advances in scientific evidence and technologies. Important consideration is given in reducing the number of time averaged messages into a single message based on 24 hour averages to be consistent with national air quality standards. The revision will also include newly deployed NowCast which is a responsive hourly AQI metric for PM2.5 as well as links to the Fires: Current Conditions webpage - linking information from federal, state and local agencies (PDF file).

Selected Literature

Booze, T. F.; Reinhardt, Timothy E.; Quiring, S. J.; Ottmar, Roger D. 2004. A screening-level assessment of the health risks of chronic smoke exposure for wildland firefighters. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene 1(5):296-305.

Broyles, G. 2013. Wildland Firefighter Smoke Exposure. USDS Forest Service National Technology & Development Program. 1351 1803 5100-Fire Management. 22 p. (PDF)

Gaughan D.M., Cox-Ganser J.M., Enright P.L., Castellan R.M., Wagner G.R., Hobbs G.R., Bledsoe T.A., Siegel P.D., Kreiss K., Weissman D.N. 2008. Acute Upper and Lower Respiratory Effects in Wildland Firefighters. JOEM, 50(9): 1019-1028

Hunter et al. 2014. Effect of wood smoke exposure on vascular function and thrombus formation in health fire fighters. Particle and Fibre Toxicology. 11:62.

Liu J.C., Pereira G., Uhl, S.A., Bravo M.A., Bell M.L. 2015. A systematic review of the physical health impacts from non-occupational exposure to wildfire smoke. Env. Res. 136: 120-132.

Noonan C.W., Balmes J.R., Health Outcomes Workgroup. 2009. Biomass smoke exposures;Health outcomes measures and study design. Inhalation Toxicology 1-5. (PDF)

Reinhardt, Timothy E.; Ottmar, Roger D. 2004. Baseline measurements of smoke exposure among wildland firefighters. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene 1: 593-606.

Unosson J., Blomberg A., Sandstrom T., Muala A., Boman C., Nystrom R., Westerholm R., Mills N.L., Newby D.E., Langrish J.P., Bosson J.A. 2013. Exposure to wood smoke increases arterial stiffness and decreases heart rate variability in humans. Particle and Fibre Toxicology. 10(20): 1-8.

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