Wildfires lead to poor air quality and health problems.

People who are exposed to wildfire smoke – particularly that from smoldering peat – are at risk of suffering from cardiac and respiratory illness, according to new research led by EPA.

The health complaints associated with wildfire smoke dramatically increased the number of emergency room visits, says the study, which examined the 2008 peat bog fire along the North Carolina coast.

ERs saw a 66 percent increase in people complaining about heart and lung conditions such as asthma, heart failure, heart attacks and others while the wildfires were burning and for several days afterwards.

Toxic chemicals released by wildfires 

Peat bog fires such as the 2008 fire the team studied release more irritating chemicals than normal forest fires, Cascio says, although scientists don’t yet fully understand how those chemicals affect the body.

Peat bog fires are different from more typical forest fires because the soil burns along with the vegetation, according to Chris Meggs of the N.C. Forestry Service.

The burning soil lends a different smell to the smoke and is the reason that these fires release more irritating chemicals.

There were at least two such fires burning in North Carolina this spring, and many more continue to rage across North America.

Officials, employers urged to act during wildfires

Researchers involved in the study hope to help public health officials manage wildfire events.

These types of studies have provided valuable insights to affected communities in the past and prompted officials to evacuate some schools and advise businesses to close during raging wildfires.

Another important goal of the EPA study, according to the article, was to shed light on which people are most sensitive to wildfire smoke.

It’s not just asthmatics who need to beware of smoke, researchers say, but also “patients with heart failure, (who) should be particularly aware.”

Source: News & Observer

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