How Wildfires Impact Our Ambient Air Quality
What Is Going On with Wildfires?
Most of the conversation around sources of air pollution references human-made sources, things like transportation and industrial exhaust. But there are also serious and growing concerns about natural sources of air pollutants contaminating our air. Wildfires are growing more common and larger due to a warming climate and pose a serious threat to our health by adding dangerous levels of pollutants to our air.
Wildfires are uncontrolled fires that burn in all kinds of ecosystems such as forests, grasslands, brushlands and even savannas. These wildfires may be the result of human activity (downed power lines, careless use of fireworks, cigarettes or campfires) or they may be caused by naturally occurring lightning strikes. Unfortunately, wildfire frequency and intensity have risen in the past few decades. These fires are just one of the many effects of global climate change which has led to rising global temperatures, drought and low humidity.
Wildfires occur all around the world and in many different environments. Wildfires are destructive of the ecology and ecosystems wherever they occur. They also release massive amounts of dangerous air pollutants that threaten local populations and get spread by wind to create problems for larger populations up to hundreds and even thousands of miles away.. This air pollution is impossible to control and difficult to monitor. This is especially true for some of the huge wildfire events occurring in recent years because the air pollutants can quickly and easily engulf nearby cities and towns and cause a wide range of health issues.
The Relationship Between Wildfires and Air Quality
Wildfire air pollution resulting from recent episodes goes where the wind takes it and is extremely tricky to monitor. Air pollutants can quickly be transported to cities and towns in one area and then just as quickly change directions to affect cities and towns in another region. The pollutants in wildfire smoke lead to serious health issues.
Recent U.S. studies have revealed how, during the worst wildfire years, emissions from wildfires have accounted for half of all the air pollution created during those years. Additionally many experts believe that wildfires are now affecting the air in areas that have been unaffected in the past. They believe the reasons for these changes are the results of human activity that has replaced forests and other green areas with roads, parking lots, buildings and livestock lands and the burning of fossil fuels. Our mismanagement of natural resources and overindulgent use of planetary resources is now leading to climate changes that further endanger our environment and the air we breathe.
Pollutants Released By Wildfires
Raging wildfires burn at extremely high temperatures and produce a wide range of dangerous pollutants.
- Carbon monoxide (CO) – a colorless and odorless poisonous gas.
- Carbon dioxide (CO2) – elevated levels lower the concentration of oxygen in the air.
- Nitrogen oxides (NOx) – decrease lung function and exacerbate asthma.
- Methane (CH4) – reduces the amount of oxygen breathed from the air leading to dizziness, blurred vision, breathing problems, nausea, etc.
- Particulate matter (PM) – very small particles penetrate deep into the lungs and can get into the heart, brain and liver and create health problems.
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – have led to increased incidences of lung, skin and bladder cancers.
- Aldehydes – alter breathing patterns, narrow airway openings and are carcinogens.
- Mercury – causes vision problems, muscle weakness and speech problems.
These, and other air pollutants, created by wildfire air pollution, irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. They can be especially problematic for people with asthma and preexisting cardiovascular diseases. They also lead to respiratory infections, colds, bronchitis and pneumonia. One of the unseen dangers is from the tiny particles that constitute PM. These can penetrate deep into the respiratory and circulatory systems, causing lung, heart, liver and brain damage. In fact, particulate matter from wildfires have been found to be four times more deadly than their normal atmospheric counterparts.
The number of premature deaths attributed to worldwide wildfires is more than 339,000 every year.
The Importance of Air Pollution Monitoring During Wildfires
As we know, our air quality is routinely threatened by industrial processes, transportation emissions, construction projects and other occasional and unpredictable events. Wildfires are one of those unfortunate events contributing to the detrimental health issues caused by air pollution. These health threats tend to be concentrated among the disadvantaged people living without the protections of housing, air conditioners and air purifiers. For this reason it is especially important that cities, towns and even neighborhoods pay attention to and understand the kinds of air quality conditions that will pose a threat to their citizens.
Researchers are continually discovering new and multifaceted health impacts of exposure to air pollution. As they do so, communities across the country need to monitor, understand and discover ways to improve the air quality in their neighborhoods and towns.
Technological developments continue to produce more effective and efficient air pollution monitoring devices for communities that need to up their air pollution monitoring game. Some of these new monitors can be permanently mounted in strategic locations for ongoing air monitoring, or can be strategically deployed to particularly vulnerable areas. Air quality monitors are able to issue warnings when dangerous air quality is present. This then enables communities to take preventive measures to protect vulnerable populations and inform the public in a timely manner. Once people are warned of dangerous air quality conditions they are able to take the necessary precautions to minimize any detrimental health effects of the pollutants.
What is needed by these communities dealing with wildfire air pollution is something known as ambient air quality monitoring. Ambient air quality monitoring is the systematic, long-term assessment of pollutant levels by measuring the quantity and types of certain pollutants in the surrounding, outdoor air. Considering the constantly changing nature of the air quality in many of our cities, towns and even communities, it is increasingly important to find ambient air quality monitoring solutions that give constant and accurate readings from set locations and also solutions that can be rapidly deployed to strategic locations. This can be particularly challenging for communities that must stay within the constraints of a limited budget.
Torrent Laboratory has made a significant commitment to air testing and analysis by investing in new methods, technologies and advanced procedures. We have the most technically advanced air quality testing laboratory equipment in order to provide highly accurate, fast and reliable results.
Torrent Laboratories ambient air quality tests use the most advanced technologies and testing methods such as NIOSH, OSHA, ASTM and EPA Air Compendium Methods (TO,CO, IO), to provide superior results for our clients. Our highly qualified and experienced scientists use the most up-to-date methods to identify particulate matter (PM), gassess, volatile and semivolatile organic compounds, PAHs, metals, pesticides or dioxins in your environment and provide swift analytical results.
Torrent Laboratories experts will assist you in ensuring that your ambient air quality meets or exceeds all necessary standards. We will also tailor our services to meet your specific needs for testing and monitoring your ambient air quality.