finding 3.2 : increased-health-impacts-from-wildfires

Wildfires emit fine particles and ozone precursors that in turn increase the risk of premature death and adverse chronic and acute cardiovascular and respiratory health outcomes [Likely, High Confidence]. Climate change is projected to increase the number of naturally occurring wildfires in parts of the United States, increasing emissions of particulate matter and ozone precursors and resulting in additional adverse health outcomes [Likely, High Confidence]



This finding is from chapter 3 of The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment.

Process for developing key messages: The chapter was developed through technical discussions of relevant evidence and expert deliberation by the report authors at several workshops, teleconferences, and email exchanges. The authors considered inputs and comments submitted by the public, the National Academies of Sciences, and Federal agencies. For additional information on the overall report process, see Appendices 23.

In addition, the author team held an all-day meeting at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency National Center for Environmental Assessment in Crystal City, Virginia, on October 15, 2014, to discuss the chapter and develop initial drafts of the Key Findings. A quorum of the authors participated and represented each of the three sections of the chapter—outdoor air quality, aeroallergens, and indoor air quality. These discussions were informed by the results of the literature review as well as the research highlights focused on outdoor air quality and indoor air quality. The team developed Key Finding 2 in response to comments from the National Research Council review panel and the general public.

The Key Findings for outdoor ozone, wildfires, and aeroallergen impacts reflect strong empirical evidence linking changes in climate to these outcomes. When characterizing the human health impacts from outdoor ozone, the team considered the strength of the toxicological, clinical, and epidemiological evidence evaluated in the Ozone Integrated Science Assessment.e00fb4e2-6406-40be-90f8-071dfc43cca3 Because there is increasing evidence that climate change will increase the frequency and intensity of wildfire events, this outcome was included as a key finding, despite the inability to quantify this impact with the available tools and data. Because altered patterns of precipitation and increasing levels of CO2 are anticipated to promote the level of aeroallergens, this outcome is also included as a Key Finding. Finally, because the empirical evidence linking climate change to indoor air quality was more equivocal, we identified this topic as an emerging issue.

Description of evidence base: The harmful effects of PM concentrations on human health have been well-documented, and there is equally strong evidence linking wildfires to higher PM concentrations regionally. Recent studies have established linkages between wildfire incidence and adverse health outcomes in the nearby population.250b4ec3-1264-4570-8417-c00e6d8752a8 21efa9a6-60df-4820-a8e4-71456cce1288 Though projections of climate change impacts on precipitation patterns are less certain than those on temperature, there is greater agreement across models that precipitation will decrease in the western United States.a6a312ba-6fd1-4006-9a60-45112db52190 Rising temperatures, decreasing precipitation, and earlier springtime onset of snowmelt are projected to lead to increased frequency and severity of wildfires.a92b6912-a92c-482b-a8e7-f43d324947e3 99baa64e-2877-4db9-b257-3f41149e73fe b95e9226-076c-4eb5-9367-472499624084

New information and remaining uncertainties: Future climate projections, especially projections of precipitation, are subject to considerable uncertainty. Land management practices, including possible adaptive measures taken to mitigate risk, could alter the frequency and severity of wildfires, the emissions from wildfires, and the associated human exposure to smoke.

Assessment of confidence based on evidence: Given the known association between PM and health outcomes and between wildfires and PM concentrations, there is high confidence that an increase in wildfire frequency and severity will likely lead to an increase in adverse respiratory and cardiac health outcomes. Based on the robustness of the projection by global climate models that precipitation amounts will decrease in parts of the United States, and that summer temperatures will increase, there is high confidence that the frequency and severity of wildfire occurrence will likely increase, particularly in the western United States.

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