Scientists say that the dirty air from Western wildfires may cause detrimental health effects that last a lifetime. Cities like Portland, Oregon, and Seattle have figuratively gone up in smoke as wildfires rage, shrouding residents with some of the dirtiest air in the world. And experts say the pollution can cause long-term lung damage as well as other medical concerns.
According to Vox, breathing the burning air is similar to smoking a package of cigarettes a day. Edward Avol, a professor of clinical preventive medicine at Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California and an expert on respiratory health and air pollution, says that while short-term illness from the smoke causes emergency room events like coughing and difficulty breathing, in the long term, it can lead to chronic disease.
For those suffering from underlying health conditions such as asthma and heart disease, the smoldering toxic chemicals unleashed by the wildfires can exacerbate their conditions. Air pollution, which includes smog and smoke, kills an estimated 7 million people worldwide every year, according to the World Health Organization. Experts say that the wildfires are giving off extremely high levels of particulate matter, a type of air pollution that directly affects lung function.
A recent study that examined the health effects of wildfires in 2017 at Seeley Lake, Montana, found a “significant decrease in lung function” in members of the community that persisted even two years after the events.
“When children and adults with potentially compromised health conditions are exposed to the smoke for days and weeks at a time, the concern is that this might convert to longer-lasting effects over their lifetime,” said Avol, according to Vox.
As more wildfires are predicted, healthcare experts advise residents to stay indoors and wear masks that filter out particles, like N95s, when venturing outdoors.
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