Wildfire Destroy Decades of Clean Air in US

Recent research led by Stanford University and published in the scientific journal Nature indicates that the increase in wildfire smoke is reversing decades of progress made in air quality in certain parts of the U.S. The study, which analyzed over two decades of satellite and air monitoring data, examined the concentration of fine particles in wildfire smoke and their impact on air quality. The findings highlight that the U.S. is grappling with the escalating pollution caused by wildfire smoke. The research revealed that wildfire smoke has influenced pollution trends in three-quarters of all U.S. states. In these states, wildfires have undone approximately 25% of the prior advancements attributed to the Clean Air Act. Marshall Burke, the lead author of the study and an associate professor at Stanford University, stated, “In half a decade, we’ve ripped out really a lot of the progress we’ve seen over multiple decades before.”

The study observed shifts in wildfire smoke patterns starting around 2015, marking a departure from the previous steady progress in most of the country. Wildfire smoke exposure can lead to significant health issues, as fine particles in the smoke can deeply infiltrate the lungs and enter the bloodstream, increasing the risk of asthma, lung cancer, and other chronic respiratory conditions. Additionally, it is associated with preterm birth and pregnancy loss. While the Clean Air Act, enacted in 1963, effectively regulates air pollution and establishes air quality standards, wildfire smoke is not covered by the act, except for prescribed burns used for intentional forest management. Various factors, including decades of intensive fire suppression policies and climate change-induced shifts in precipitation and temperature patterns, have contributed to the rise in wildfire smoke. Despite the challenge posed by wildfires, the Clean Air Act continues to successfully reduce pollution from other sources. Burke emphasized, “If it wasn’t for wildfires, our air quality would continue to get better.”

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