Lung Association Report: Prescribed Burns Can Mitigate Health Harm from Worsening Wildfires

New report weighs benefits and risks of prescribed fire to mitigate health harms of catastrophic wildfires

Fueled by climate change, wildfires are becoming more frequent and intense – increasingly exposing more residents to the potentially deadly effects of breathing wildfire smoke. Already in 2022, more than 1.9 million acres have burned in Colorado and more wildfires are predicted. Today, the American Lung Association announced a new report, which finds that prescribed burning can be used to mitigate the negative air quality, health, and safety impacts of catastrophic wildfires.

The Lung Association’s report, “Can Prescribed Fires Mitigate Health Harm? A Review of Air Quality and Public Health Implications of Wildfire and Prescribed Fire,” prepared by PSE Healthy Energy, looks at the current research on the potential of prescribed burning to mitigate the increasing health and air quality risks from catastrophic wildfires. The report shows that wildfire activity is predicted to increase in the decades ahead and that historical fire suppression policies are insufficient for longer-term fire management, deferring rather than preventing catastrophic wildfires. The report finds that responsible prescribed burn activity can be used as a tool to help mitigate the devastating impacts of wildfires.

In Colorado, recent wildfires have had a dramatic impact on the air quality. According to the Lung Association’s 2022 “State of the Air” report, both Denver and Fort Collins experienced their worst-ever levels of short-term particle pollution. The cities ranked #26 and #30 worst in the nation, respectively, for unhealthy spikes in particle pollution. These rankings follow a record-breaking wildfire season in 2020 which included the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome fires.

“Wildfire smoke can be extremely harmful to lungs, especially for outdoor workers, children, older adults and people with asthma, COPD, chronic heart disease and diabetes. Pregnant people exposed to wildfire smoke are more likely to experience adverse pregnancy outcomes, including preterm birth,” said Nick Torres, director of advocacy for the Lung Association in Colorado. “We commissioned this report to learn more about the impacts of prescribed burning, and how this approach may have the potential to help protect the lung health of Americans from the growing health threats posed by wildfires. Since such measures also produce smoke that can be harmful to health, it was important for us to review and understand the latest research.”

While more research is needed to evaluate comparative risks of prescribed fire smoke and wildfire, using prescribed burns under the right conditions can simultaneously reduce fuels to reduce wildfire risk while supporting ecosystem health and resiliency. The report also found that although increasing prescribed burning activities may contribute to local air quality impacts, prescribed fire can be conducted in ways that minimize harmful smoke exposure. Expanded prescribed fire activities should be coupled with additional policies and best practices to mitigate potential harmful smoke exposure.

As catastrophic wildfires put the health of more and more Americans at risk, immediate steps are needed to reduce health harm. Numerous strategies can be implemented to reduce public health impacts associated with wildfire smoke exposure, many of which also mitigate smoke exposure from prescribed burn activities. These strategies include air quality surveillance coupled with public outreach and public notification systems; indoor air filtration and clean air spaces; and additional emergency planning and response, including protections for vulnerable populations.

View the full report here. For resources on how individuals can protect themselves from wildfire smoke, visit Lung.org/Wildfire.

For more information, contact:

Jill Dale
312-940-7001
[email protected]

Asthma Basics Workshop - National
, | May 07, 2024
Asthma Basics Workshop - National
, | May 15, 2024