Saturday, April 1, 2023

Scientists expand study on the impact of air quality on health

Scientists at the Oregon Institute of Technology were recently awarded a $1 million grant from the federal government that could result in research that improves health outcomes in southern Oregon caused by wildfire smoke.

Since 2019, a team of Oregon Tech scientists has been studying the capacity of hospitals in Rogue Valley to handle patients who come in with respiratory problems during wildfires, when the air quality due to wildfires decreases.

“If this is what we call ‘purple,’ which is really poor air quality, the chances of exceeding hospital capacity go up to about 70 percent,” said Kyle Chapman, an associate professor of sociology and population health. at the Oregon Institute of Technology, told Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Chapman and his colleagues will now shift their focus to include logging due to heart conditions experienced during wildfires, in addition to respiratory diseases such as asthma, which can increase wildfire smoke.

“We think that some of these other conditions related to heart disease, which are much more widespread than chronic respiratory diseases, are a big player here as well,” he said.

Chapman said how hospitalizations during wildfires can change staffing levels, noting what is already done during the summer when emergency room visits increase.

The federal grant will allow scientists to install new monitors inside and outside homes in Klamath Falls that can reveal chemicals in wildfire smoke, a new area of ​​study that has taken on increasing importance as wildfires spread. becomes more intense and spreads beyond the forests. homes and businesses.

“Instead of just looking at the mass measure of how much smoke is in the air … what it’s made of, it gives us an indication of where it came from, what kind of things were burned in the fire that caused it.” The smoke produced and, potentially, how dangerous that smoke is to human health,” said Adelaide Clark, a former associate professor of chemistry at the Oregon Institute of Technology who is now on the faculty at Providence College, Rhode Island.

Last year, there were 38 days in Klamath Falls where air quality was found to be unhealthy for all groups of people, according to a newly released report on wildfire smoke trends from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. A record was set in 2018. ,

If climate change is making wildfires more intense, extreme heat conditions more common and droughts longer, then public health may need to devise new policies to protect against wildfire smoke. .

“We have a heat wave across the state, a lot of our cooling centers are overused,” Chapman said. “It might be a good idea to make sure those cooling centers are clean breathing centers as well.”

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