Climate Change Could Double Deaths from Wildfire Smoke

A wildfire in Mendocino County, California in July 2018.

A wildfire in Mendocino County, California in July 2018. Bob Dass / Flickr

As climate change continues to fuel more intense and frequent wildfires, the number of people who die in the United States from inhaling wildfire smoke could more than double by 2100, jumping from 15,000 premature deaths per year today to 40,000 by the end of the century, according to a study published in the journal GeoHealth.

When wildfires burn through forests and grasslands, they throw fine particles, known as PM 2.5, into the air. These particles penetrate deep into people’s lungs and can cause inflammation, trigger asthma attacks, and increase mortality in those with heart and lung disease, E&E News reported. In recent years, stricter regulations on emissions from power plants and vehicles have helped decrease PM 2.5 levels across the U.S. Climate change-fueled wildfires could reverse that trend, the new study concludes.

The Pacific Northwest, the Southeast, and areas along the Canadian border could all see increases in particulate matter pollution from wildfires and subsequent increases in PM 2.5-related premature deaths.

“People could use this information as sort of a first estimate of what to prepare for in terms of future air quality,” Jeff Pierce, an associate professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University and co-author of the new study, said in a statement.