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Community vulnerability to health impacts of wildland fire smoke exposure
Rappold, A., J. Reyes, G. Pouliot, W. Cascio, AND D. Diaz-Sanchez. Community vulnerability to health impacts of wildland fire smoke exposure. ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY. American Chemical Society, Washington, DC, 51(12):6674-6682, (2017).
Exposure to wildfire smoke is a serious health risk which can disproportionally impact sensitive groups. A number of studies have shown an association between smoke exposure and worsening of respiratory symptoms, increased rates of cardiorespiratory emergency visits, hospitalizations, and even death. Identifying communities vulnerable to adverse health outcomes during smoke days can provide valuable information for local, state, and federal governments and nongovernmental organizations to prioritize public health actions and improve public health outcomes on fire-smoke days.
Identifying communities vulnerable to adverse health effects from exposure to wildfire smoke may help prepare responses, increase the resilience to smoke and improve public health outcomes during smoke days. We developed a Community Health-Vulnerability Index (CHVI) based on factors known to increase the risks of health effects from air pollution and wildfire smoke exposures. These factors included county prevalence rates for asthma in children and adults, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, percent of population 65 years of age and older, and indicators of socioeconomic status including poverty, education, income and unemployment. Using air quality simulated for the period between 2008 and 2012 over the continental U.S. we also characterized the population size at risk with respect to the level and duration of exposure to fire-originated fine particulate matter (fire-PM2.5) and CHVI. We estimate that 10% of the population (30.5 million) lived in the areas where the contribution of fire-PM2.5 to annual average ambient PM2.5 was high (>1.5 µg m3) and that 10.3 million individuals experienced unhealthy air quality levels for more than 10 days due to smoke. Using CHVI we identified the most vulnerable counties and determined that these communities experience more smoke exposures in comparison to less vulnerable communities.