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Contributions of prescribed fire to air quality and health

Principal Investigator: 
,

Georgia Institute of Technology

The objectives of this study are to: 1) Estimate the contributions of prescribed burning to both fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone (O3) levels in the Southeastern US; 2) Quantify the effects of prescribed fire smoke on rates of emergency department (ED) visits; and 3) Assess how the observed health impacts vary across strata defined by age, sex, and socioeconomic markers.

Funded under
Status: 
Ongoing
Abstract

Poster abstract for HEI Annual Conference 2022

Contributions of Prescribed Fire to Air Quality and Health

M. Talat Odman1, Gregory A. Wellenius2, Patrick L. Kinney2, Armistead G. Russell1

1Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, USA; 2Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Background. In recent years, the use of prescribed burning as a strategy to reduce wildfire risk has increased, thus exposing a larger population to smoke from prescribed fire. These burns are conducted under conditions of lower temperature and higher humidity compared to wildfire weather, leading to less complete levels of combustion. As a result, their smoke differs substantially from wildfire smoke in terms of constituents, concentrations, and proportions. While there has been considerable research in the health impacts of smoke from wildfires, fewer studies have focused on quantifying the health impacts of prescribed fire. The objectives of this new study are to: 1) Estimate the contributions of prescribed burning to both fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone (O3) levels in the Southeastern US; 2) Quantify the effects of prescribed fire smoke on rates of emergency department (ED) visits; and 3) Assess how the observed health impacts vary across strata defined by age, sex, and socioeconomic markers.

Methods. We will use fire emissions estimates derived from burn permit data and satellite fire observations in an advanced air quality modeling system. The modeling results will be combined with observed air quality to estimate daily, spatially-resolved contributions of prescribed fire to PM2.5 and O3. Then, we will combine these estimates with the OptumLabs database of healthcare utilization among millions of individuals insured by UnitedHealthcare to quantify the health effects due prescribed fire. This will provide evidence on specific health responses associated with exposure to PM2.5 and O3 from prescribed fire.

Results. In a previous study, using burn permit records and air quality modeling at 4-km horizontal resolution, we estimated the prescribed fire contributions to the PM2.5 concentrations during the burning season in Georgia (January–April) for 2015–2018. Assimilating PM2.5 observations to the modeling results reduced the error in estimated PM2.5 concentrations by 35%. We have used the prescribed fire contributed portion of these PM2.5 fields together with concentration-response functions for wildfire smoke (since no such functions existed for prescribed fire smoke; they will be derived in this new study) to quantify the health effects of PM2.5 attributable to prescribed burning. We found that PM2.5 from prescribed burning was associated with asthma exacerbations in the Atlanta metropolitan area as well as in sparsely populated parts of Georgia, such as southwest Georgia, where PM2.5 concentrations are continually high during January–April.

Conclusions. In this new study, our hypotheses are: 1) Prescribed burning contribute to a large proportion of daily PM2.5 and O3 concentrations in the Southeastern US; 2) Exposure to air pollution from prescribed burns is associated with a higher risk of ED visits for respiratory and cardiovascular disease; and 3) The magnitude of health effects varies by sex, age, and neighborhood-level markers of socioeconomic status and social vulnerability.