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We still do not know much about how smoke from forest fires affects our health

SAN FRANCISCO – As California continues to weather its worst fires in the history of the state, the specific impacts of smoke of wildfires in human health continue to elude scientists.

The state's wine country has killed more than 40 people and destroyed at least 5,700 structures, but the consequences extend well beyond those of the Blaze Fires have created a record amount of air pollution that stretches across the San Francisco Bay Area, almost the same amount produced by cars in the state in a given year, an air quality analyst said. to CNN. But scientists also say that more research is needed to understand how smoke from forest fires affects residents' health.

That smoked and polluted air is full of microscopic particles about 2.5 micrometers or less, or PM 2.5, that are too small to be trapped by the filtration system of our lungs and instead enter our torrent These particles are what made brown and misty skies as far away as San Francisco 50 miles away, prompting warnings to remain indoors and coughing, wheezing and other side effects among many of those exposed to the abysmal air .

Numerous studies have linked premature death in people with heart or lung diseases, heart attacks, asthma and other respiratory problems with the inhalation of such particles, which are also emitted throughout the year by vehicles and other sources of contamination. Other recent studies have linked PM exposure to an increased risk of kidney disease and shortened the life expectancy of people exposed to it in the womb.

What is less clear is whether the PM in forest fire smoke – which has a unique chemical composition and, in short, intense episodes during and after a fire – It presents a different set of risks than the particles produced by automobiles and other daily sources, said Jia Coco Liu, a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University, author of several studies that explore the link between forest fire contamination.

The biggest question she needs to answer is "whether the composition of fine particles of smoke from wildfires is more harmful or less harmful than traffic," he said.

His recent research has taken some steps to close that gap. In a study published in January in the journal Epidemiology, Liu and his co-authors found that in times of high exposure to wildfire smoke in the western states of the USA. UU there was an increase of 7.2 percent in those over 65 admitted hospitals for respiratory problems, regardless of any pre-existing condition.

The most common problems people came in for were respiratory tract infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a general term that includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and asthma.

Her research has also found that women are more vulnerable than men to health problems related to smoke from forest fires, probably because they have smaller lung volumes. Another investigation found the same for children, she said.

But pointing out these effects of forest fire pollution, he said, has proven to be a challenging task.

"It is very difficult to isolate pollution specifically from forest fires," while other sources of pollution are constantly expelling PM into the atmosphere, he said. The number of studies can also be stifled by limited interest in the subject. "It's also a regional issue … it's not a big concern in most states of the US," he said.

Other scientific research on the effect of forest fire smoke on health have also found that current research is too scarce. A review by the University of California at Davis earlier this month raised concern about the shortage and said more studies are needed to determine whether chemicals and pesticides applied to forests and croplands change the composition of the contamination.

"It is possible that what distinguishes it is the chemicals that humans add to the environment, but researchers have not yet paid enough attention to this," Jerold Last, professor and researcher at UC Davis on the environmental causes of the disease He said about the release of the review he co-authored.

Breathing carcinogens such as arsenic present in smoke from wildfires, UC San Francisco doctor John Balmes told the New Republic last week that it could possibly cause cancer, but again, "that has not been well studied," he said.

Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency also hopes to gain some understanding of the link between forest fire smoke and diseases through crowdsourcing information. His recently launched Smoke Sense, a project launched in August and through October, asks people to report on the conditions of wildfire smoke and their health symptoms through an application.

It's the kind of company Liu would like to see the most.

"As forest fires have become increasingly frequent and intense in recent years, they are receiving more attention and more research has been done," Liu said. "So I hope there is more scientific information about forest fires in the coming years."

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