Mortality attributable to PM2.5 from wildland fires in California from 2008 to 2018 | Science Advances



Wildland fires have become an increasingly frequent and devastating phenomenon in California, with far-reaching consequences for human health and the environment. One of the most significant health risks associated with wildland fires is exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5), a potent air pollutant that can penetrate deep into the lungs and cause a range of serious health problems. A recent study published in Science Advances has shed new light on the mortality burden attributable to PM2.5 from wildland fires in California between 2008 and 2018, revealing a staggering toll on human life.

The Study:

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, and the California Air Resources Board used a combination of air quality monitoring data, fire activity records, and epidemiological models to estimate the mortality burden attributable to PM2.5 from wildland fires in California over the 11-year study period. The team focused on PM2.5, which is a key component of wildfire smoke, and is known to be a major contributor to cardiovascular and respiratory disease.


The study’s results are alarming. The researchers estimated that PM2.5 from wildland fires in California was responsible for approximately 2,200 premature deaths between 2008 and 2018. This translates to an average of around 200 deaths per year, with the majority of these deaths occurring in the summer months when fire activity is typically at its peak.

The study also found that the mortality burden varied significantly across different regions of California, with the highest rates of PM2.5-attributable mortality observed in the Central Valley and Southern California. These regions are home to some of the state’s most populous cities, including Los Angeles and Fresno, which are often plagued by poor air quality during wildland fire events.

Health Impacts:

The health impacts of PM2.5 exposure are well-documented. Prolonged exposure to high levels of PM2.5 can cause a range of serious health problems, including cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and even premature death. The elderly, young children, and individuals with pre-existing medical conditions are particularly vulnerable to the health effects of PM2.5 exposure.

Climate Change and Wildland Fires:

The study’s findings are particularly concerning in the context of climate change, which is expected to increase the frequency and severity of wildland fires in California and other regions. As temperatures rise and drought conditions become more frequent, the risk of catastrophic wildfires is likely to grow, putting more people at risk of PM2.5 exposure and related health problems.


The mortality burden attributable to PM2.5 from wildland fires in California is a stark reminder of the devastating consequences of these events. As the state continues to grapple with the impacts of climate change, it is essential that policymakers and public health officials take steps to mitigate the health risks associated with wildland fires. This includes investing in air quality monitoring and early warning systems, promoting public awareness and education campaigns, and supporting efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent catastrophic wildfires.


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