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Recent wildfire smoke has reversed decades of climate progress, Stanford study finds

Calista Silva KION


A new Stanford study reveals just how detrimental toxic wildfire smoke has been on air quality after years of progress to fight climate change.

Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability released the study with lead author Marshall Burke. Their findings detail how historic wildfires in recent years caused toxic particles of air to blow hundreds of miles across the nation, negatively impacting air quality in 35 states.

Environmental Protection Agency data found that from 2000 to the year 2016, those toxic air particles were on the decline. However, from 2016 to the year 2020, gains made toward cleaner air were either stalled or reversed in the majority of the United States all because of historic wildfires.

According to the study:

"No wider than a human hair spliced into 30 strands, PM2.5 can embed deep in the lungs and cross into the bloodstream. Even a few hours or weeks of exposure to elevated levels can trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks, and early death. Longer-term exposure can take months or years off your life expectancy… The new analysis of U.S. air pollution data from ground and air sensors, published Sept. 20 in Nature, shows average annual PM2.5 levels had declined in as many as 41 states throughout the contiguous U.S. between 2000 and 2016. Since then, wildfire smoke has either slowed or fully reversed air quality trends in 35 states."

The study was released the same week forecasters announced California recorded its coolest summer in more than a decade. This is in comparison to recent record-breaking heat waves and had no impact on air quality concerns.

Stanford researchers outlined how much air quality progress has been undone by wildfire smoke, but stressed it's too soon to tell just how badly these changing trends can impact people's health.

You can read the full report here

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