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Experts warn that wildfires are exacerbating health risks in already-polluted regions of the U.S.

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The Impact of Wildfires on Air Quality and Public Health in the Western United States

Wildfires in the western United States have been a growing concern, especially for communities already facing air pollution challenges. The San Joaquin Valley, known for its geographical features that trap air pollution, is particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of wildfire smoke. As wildfires continue to rage across the state, experts are warning of the increasing threat posed by both the fires and the dangerous particulate matter pollution they produce.

Studies have shown that wildfire smoke can exacerbate respiratory problems, increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes, and have long-term impacts on health. The aftermath of the deadly 2018 Camp Fire in northern California highlighted the far-reaching effects of wildfire smoke, with traces of pollutants found hundreds of miles away.

Communities in the San Joaquin Valley, especially those in pollution-burdened areas, are disproportionately affected by poor air quality. Efforts to curb pollution and raise awareness about the dangers of air pollution vary depending on where you live. The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment’s CalEnviroScreen has identified areas in the Valley with high pollution burdens, often affecting Hispanic communities and individuals between the ages of 10 to 64.

Residents in pollution-burdened communities may face challenges such as limited transportation options, leading to the use of older, polluting vehicles. Efforts by local advocates like Kieshaun White, founder of “Healthy Fresno Air,” aim to raise awareness about air pollution and engage communities in clean air advocacy.

Doctors in the San Joaquin Valley have noted an increase in patients seeking medical care during wildfire season due to the impact of pollution on respiratory health. The long-term effects of chronic pollution in the Valley, compounded by wildfire smoke, can have serious implications for residents’ health and longevity.

As wildfires continue to pose a threat to communities across the West, efforts to address air quality and provide assistance to evacuees are crucial. Organizations like the Red Cross of Central California are preparing for the challenges of wildfire season, including finding adequate shelters for evacuees and implementing health measures to protect against COVID-19.

The growing awareness of the dangers of air pollution and the increasing frequency of wildfires underscore the importance of taking action to protect public health and the environment. By raising awareness, advocating for cleaner air, and implementing measures to reduce pollution, communities can work towards a healthier future for all residents.

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