Researchers stated that climate change is intensifying wildfires, leading to increased smoke and subsequently heightening the risk of heart and lung diseases due to the inhalation of fine particles that can travel long distances.
Estimates released on Monday suggest that by the middle of the century, over 125 million Americans will be exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution primarily due to heightened wildfire smoke.
However, according to experts, there are limited effective methods available to safeguard communities. While the United States has made progress in managing various climate-related threats such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires, smoke presents unique challenges. Unlike other hazards, smoke is more difficult to predict, garner serious attention from the public, and prevent from infiltrating homes.
Brian G. Henning, director of the Institute for Climate, Water, and the Environment at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, stated, “With wildfire smoke in particular, we are not going to adapt our way out of the problem. It’s really hard to address.”
The First Street Foundation, the research group responsible for the report, noted that air pollution in the United States saw a steady improvement starting from the 1950s, primarily due to increased regulation. However, this positive trend reversed around 2016.
This shift is evident in the Air Quality Index, which measures the concentration of fine particles in the air that can be absorbed through the lungs and into the bloodstream, as well as ozone, another harmful pollutant. Over nearly a decade, average air quality readings have deteriorated.
According to the First Street Foundation, two main factors contribute to this reversal, both linked to climate change. Firstly, the rise in extreme heat has led to increased ozone levels in the atmosphere. Secondly, and more significantly, the escalation in heat and drought has exacerbated wildfires, resulting in more widespread smoke across the United States.
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