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Impact of smoke from prescribed burning: Is it a public health concern?
Given the increase in wildfire intensity and frequency worldwide, prescribed burning is becoming a more common and widespread practice. Prescribed burning is a fire management tool used to reduce fuel loads for wildfire suppression purposes and occurs on an annual basis in many parts of the world. Smoke from prescribed burning can have a substantial impact on air quality and the environment. Prescribed burning is a significant source of fine particulate matter (PM2.5 aerodynamic diameter<2.5µm) and these particulates are found to be consistently elevated during smoke events. Due to their fine nature PM2.5 are particularly harmful to human health. Here we discuss the impact of prescribed burning on air quality particularly focussing on PM2.5. We have summarised available case studies from Australia including a recent study we conducted in regional Victoria, Australia during the prescribed burning season in 2013. The studies reported very high short-term (hourly) concentrations of PM2.5 during prescribed burning. Given the increase in PM2.5 concentrations during smoke events, there is a need to understand the influence of prescribed burning smoke exposure on human health. This is important especially since adverse health impacts have been observed during wildfire events when PM2.5 concentrations were similar to those observed during prescribed burning events. Robust research is required to quantify and determine health impacts from prescribed burning smoke exposure and derive evidence based interventions for managing the risk.
Implications: Given the increase in PM2.5 concentrations during PB smoke events and its impact on the local air quality, the need to understand the influence of PB smoke exposure on human health is important. This knowledge will be important to inform policy and practice of the integrated, consistent, and adaptive approach to the appropriate planning and implementation of public health strategies during PB events. This will also have important implications for land management and public health organizations in developing evidence based objectives to minimize the risk of PB smoke exposure.
Australian Research Council
British Columbia Government
Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions
New South Wales Environment Protection Agency
Tasmania Fire Service
Publication titleJournal of the Air & Waste Management Association
Department/SchoolMenzies Institute for Medical Research
Place of publicationUnited States
Rights statementCopyright 2015 A&WMA