Fire is not only a threat to forests and livelihoods in the rural areas. As the forest fire season takes on entirely new dimensions by getting longer and more intense, fire – and smoke related health hazards increase, warned an international study published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics and reported by PhysOrg.
Burning vegetation releases small particulates, that are dangerous even in small quantities. According to the study, in countries with effective measures to reduce air pollution, wildfire emissions are not causing the average annual levels of small particles to surpass the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended thresholds. However, emissions from fires do increase air pollution severely, which in turn can have grave consequences for human health. According to WHO, the range of health effects of the small particulates is broad, but are predominantly to the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. In principle, the longer the exposure to small particulates is, the more severe the impact on health is.
Tragically, it is estimated that more than 700 000 hectares of land have burned in 2017 alone. The data from European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) points out that the majority of fires were caused by human activities. Additionally dry conditions paved the way for small fires to turn into uncontrollable wildfires. Both conditions, on the bright side, indicate that there is potential for fire prevention.
Currently, air quality policies do not include wildfires and the emissions they cause. Additionally, up until this point there is no widely approved way to manage wildfires. In the light of the late megafires, there is an urgent need to collaborate on the international level to find the best approach to manage and prevent wildfires. For the sake of our forests and our health.
Read the entire news article here.
The smoke issue is a very serious topic and compared to other regions in the world we are still in a quite good position here with our fires in Europe. Think of Malaysia…
One concern that I personally have with news about smoke of vegetation fires is that the smoke and its impact on health is often used in arguing against the use of prescribed fire. Prescribed or controlled burning however is one of the few effective tools to reduce unwanted disaster fires that, by the way, produce a lot more smoke than a prescribed fire. Some people express concern that prescribed burning adds to carbon dioxide emissions and oppose its use for that reason. There are two answers to this (in my opinion mistaken) attitude. Firstly, the wildfires are going to happen anyway. They are absolutely inevitable. The choice is between the lesser emissions from prescribed burning or much higher emissions from the inevitable wildfires. Take your pick! The second answer is that there are no net emissions from prescribed burning. It is a carbon neutral activity because the “fine fuel” vegetation, which constitutes most of the fuel consumed in a prescribed burn, regrows vigorously after a burn and takes back from the atmosphere the carbon previously emitted. This is a natural cycle that has been ticking over for millennia.
Impact on health is a very real problem in Malaysia and Singapore. They burn the peat beds in Sumatra once a year for the next years cultivation of palm oil. The smoke and toxicity in the air was unbearable when we lived there. Everyone had to buy an air purifier as one year it lasted more than 1 month!