Science Inventory

Hazardous air pollutants emission estimates from wildfires in the wildland urban interface


Holder, A., A. Ahmed, J. Vukovich, AND V. Rao. Hazardous air pollutants emission estimates from wildfires in the wildland urban interface. PNAS Nexus. Oxford University Press, OXFORD, Uk, 2(6):pgad186, (2023).


Wildfires in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) burn homes and vehicles leading to potentially greater emissions of hazardous air pollutants than from wildfires in natural lands. The greater proximity of these wildfires to population centers and the potentially more toxic emissions makes fires in the WUI a unique threat to public health. We estimate the emissions from several recent WUI fires in California and find greater emissions of some hazardous air pollutants attributable to urban fuels when compared to natural biomass and other anthropogenic sources in the air shed. Our results demonstrate that WUI fires are a potential major source of hazardous air pollutants and a better understanding of what and how much is emitted from them is needed.


Fires that occur in the wildland urban interface (WUI) often burn structures, vehicles, and their contents in addition to biomass in the natural landscape. Because these fires burn near population centers, their emissions may have a sizeable impact on public health, necessitating a better understanding of criteria and hazardous air pollutants emitted from these fires and how they differ from wildland fires. Previous studies on the toxicity of emissions from the combustion of building materials and vehicles have shown that urban fires may emit numerous toxic species such as hydrogen cyanide, hydrogen fluoride, hydrogen chloride, isocyanates, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), dioxins and furans, and a range of toxic organic compounds (e.g. benzene toluene, xylenes, styrene, and formaldehyde) and metals (e.g. lead, chromium, cadmium, and arsenic). We surveyed the literature to create a compendium of emission factors for species emitted from the combustion of building and vehicle materials and compared them with those from wildland fires. Emission factors for some toxic species like PAH and some organic compounds were several orders of magnitude greater than those from wildfires. We used this emission factor compendium to calculate a bounding estimate of the emissions from several notable WUI fires in the western United States to show that urban fuels may contribute a sizeable portion of the toxic emissions into the atmosphere. However, large gaps remain in our understanding of the fuel composition, fuel consumption, and combustion conditions in WUI fires that constrain our ability to estimate the impact of WUI fires.

Record Details:

Product Published Date:06/20/2023
Record Last Revised:05/24/2024
OMB Category:Other
Record ID: 361544