Air pollution from forest fires blamed for 33.5 thousand deaths annually

Scientists for the first time studied how forest fires affect the ecology of cities, and came to the conclusion that the air pollution generated by them takes the lives of 33.5 thousand people every year. A significant proportion of these deaths occur in Japan, Mexico, China, South Africa, Thailand and the United States. The research results were published in the scientific journal Lancet Planetary Health.

One of the most dangerous consequences of global warming today is considered to be that the frequency and extent of forest fires have noticeably increased in recent years in the United States, Australia, a number of Latin American countries, as well as in Russian Siberia and in some regions in southern Canada. These fires not only cause enormous environmental and economic damage, but also directly harm human health.

A group of environmentalists and physicians led by Professor Guo Yuming of Monash University (Australia) conducted the first comprehensive assessment of how ash particles, soot, as well as various aerosols and hazardous substances present in forest fire smoke affect the well-being of all mankind.

Consequences of fires

To obtain similar estimates, researchers tracked how wildfires affected air quality in 745 of the world’s largest cities between early 2000 and late 2016. Scientists compared these data with how mortality changed in these metropolitan areas, which helped them assess the impact of forest fires on overall mortality, as well as on the incidence of dangerous diseases of the lungs and cardiovascular system.

As it turned out, forest fires account for a fairly large share of the total number of annual deaths, about 0.8%, which is about 33.5 thousand cases of premature death of people. The largest number of them occurs in Japan, where emissions from forest fires annually claim about seven thousand lives. Scientists suggest that this is due to the high population density and the country’s proximity to large foci of forest fires.

The countries hardest hit by wildfire emissions in the past two decades also include the United States, China, Thailand, South Africa and Mexico. According to current estimates of scientists, about 3-5 thousand of their inhabitants die every year due to diseases of the lungs and cardiovascular system, which were provoked by ash and aerosols of natural origin.

Guo Yuming and his colleagues hope that the relevant UN bodies and the governments of individual countries of the world will take note of their calculations and begin to actively fight forest fires and various climatic and anthropogenic factors that have contributed to their increase in the past few decades.

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