The West American wildfires have been spewed smoke across the landscape and pose a threat to public health. Climate change drove the 2020 fire season to be so severe that it nearly doubled the California record for acres burned. At-home monitoring of smoke’s effect on air quality has become almost commonplace. The season started badly and already has darkened the skies on the East Coast from smoke from West Coast wildfires.

This is not your typical air pollution. Research has shown that the tiny particles in smoke are 10 times more dangerous than soot from factories and tailpipes.

Smoke particles can cause 10x more harm to your health than small particles.

Researchers looked at fine particles (also known as PM2.5) that are about 30 times smaller than the diameters of human hair follicles. Fine particles are released into the atmosphere when fuels burn, such as gas and vegetation. The study showed that fine particles in wildfire smoke caused 10 percent more respiratory hospitalizations than without it. Hospitalizations rose by only 1% due to pollution from other sources.

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What is “fine particle” and why should we be concerned?

Because fine particles are a major component of wildfire smoke, the research group in which I work is focused on them. These particles are very unique. The materials they are being burned can affect their chemical composition. Wildfire smoke can contain a variety of compounds, including fine particles such as carbon and heavy metals.