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Grantee Research Project Results

Grantee Research Project Results

The Public Health Impacts of Wildfire Smoke and Aeroallergens Altered by Changing Climate: A Spatial Epidemiological Approach

EPA Grant Number: FP917200
Title: The Public Health Impacts of Wildfire Smoke and Aeroallergens Altered by Changing Climate: A Spatial Epidemiological Approach
Investigators: Reid, Colleen Elizabeth
Institution: University of California - Berkeley
EPA Project Officer: Just, Theodore J.
Project Period: September 1, 2010 through August 31, 2013
Project Amount: $111,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2010)
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Global Change



My research focuses on two related topics within the field of climate change and health that have not been well studied: the health effects of exposure to wildfire smoke and to aeroallergens. Human alterations to the climate and to the landscape contribute to the frequency and severity of both exposures, and there are documented respiratory health effects of both, with significant burdens for the growing asthmatic population. Better understanding of the health effects of natural pollutants and their interactions with urban air pollution can influence policies that can have significant benefits for human health.


Climate change is projected to increase the frequency and severity of wildfires in many parts of the world and to increase the concentration of aeroallergens. My research will employ spatial epidemiological methods to produce better estimates of the health effects of these “natural” air pollutants, focusing on case studies in California. The findings from my research can be used to inform regulatory decisions regarding mitigation of and public health adaptation to climate change.


The overall goal of my research is to use spatial epidemiological methods to produce better estimates of the health effects of wildfire smoke and aeroallergen exposures. Ground-level measurements of air pollution and meteorology, along with remotely sensed satellite data, will be combined to assess exposure to the 2008 northern California wildfires on fine spatial and temporal scales, which will then be analyzed to estimate the impacts of these extensive fires on respiratory outcomes. For the aeroallergens project, I will pilot a methodology to spatially and temporally model aeroallergen exposure in order to assess the interactions between aeroallergens and urban air pollutants on asthma among children in an ongoing cohort study in Fresno, CA, an area with high air pollution and pesticide exposures.

Expected Results:

These analyses will yield more refined estimates of dose-response relationships of health outcomes from these two natural air pollutants as well as identification of vulnerable populations. Both of these studies use more spatially refined exposure assessment compared to previous studies, as most studies of wildfires have used coarsely defined spatial exposure assessment and no studies to my knowledge have spatially modeled aeroallergen exposure. Improved spatial exposure will lead to more accurate dose-response estimates, which are essential for use in cost-benefit analyses that are used to make decisions on climate change mitigation. Better understanding of the health impacts of wildfire smoke and aeroallergens can also enable decisions to be made for public health adaptation to climate change.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection:

The findings from my research will have two principal purposes: to inform current debates and regulatory decisions regarding mitigation and public health protection and to provide a scientific basis for understanding how climate change will generate new or exacerbate current health impacts. Additionally, my research will help further understand which populations are most vulnerable to wildfire smoke and aeroallergens. With better understanding of where the most vulnerable populations are, local public health agencies can target limited funds toward efforts to lessen the adverse health impacts on these populations.

Supplemental Keywords:

climate change, aeroallergens, wildfires, air pollution, environmental epidemiology, remote sensing, geographic information systems, exposure assessment, public health,

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The perspectives, information and conclusions conveyed in research project abstracts, progress reports, final reports, journal abstracts and journal publications convey the viewpoints of the principal investigator and may not represent the views and policies of ORD and EPA. Conclusions drawn by the principal investigators have not been reviewed by the Agency.

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