Researchers say forest fires in the Pacific Northwest are changing air pollution patterns across the United States

Researchers warn that the growing large and intense forest fires that rage in the northwest Pacific each summer cause an increase in air pollutants during August, which they say undermines clear air increases and can be harmful to millions of people.

The warning comes in a study recently published in Nature Communications, a peer-reviewed scientific journal. In this study, researchers from the National Center for Atmospheric Research found that the amount of carbon monoxide in the air in August increased dramatically between 2002 and 2018.

This is important because carbon monoxide levels are typically lower in the summer. Researchers say fire smoke is likely to be the cause of the increase.


“Emissions from wildfires have increased so significantly that they are changing the air quality pattern across North America,” Rebecca Buchholz, lead author of the study, said in a news release. “It is quite clear that there is a new peak of air pollution in August that did not used to exist.”

Nearly 3,500 forest fires have burned more than 1 million acres of land in Washington over the past two years, according to the Washington Forest Protection Association. State leaders warn that the problem is likely to get worse as our years get warmer, which will increase the length and intensity of Washington’s forest fire season.

To determine if the higher levels of pollution were caused by smoke, the researchers eliminated other sources of emissions. They found that carbon dioxide levels across the Pacific were lower in August – a sign that the pollutants did not come from Asia – and determined that the more tame wildfire seasons in the central and eastern parts of the United States did not coincide with such a dramatic one. increase in carbon monoxide levels in these regions.

They also examined the emissions inventories of a few fossil fuels, which showed that carbon monoxide emissions from human activity did not increase in the northwestern Pacific during the study period.

“Several pieces of evidence point to the worsening forest fires in the Northwest Pacific as the cause of the deteriorating air quality,” Buchholz said. “It is particularly unfortunate that these fires are undermining the gains that society has made in reducing pollution in general.”

The deteriorating air quality has major health consequences for the inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest. Prolonged exposure to smoke pollutants has been associated with significant respiratory problems and may affect the cardiovascular system. Such exposure has also been known to “aggravate pregnancy outcomes,” scientists say.

Buchholz also warned that smoke pollution could have health consequences for those living in headwinds in the northwest Pacific.

“Clearly, more research is needed into the health consequences of all this smoke,” she said. “We can already see the impact of these fires on the health of residents who live hundreds or even thousands of miles in the wind.”



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