Air Pollution From Wildfires – A Threat To Human Hearts

Researchers from Australia believe that greenhouse gasses, released from wildfires, may play a vital role in heart illness. Lead author, Anjali Haikerwal of the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at Monash University in Victoria, says, “Finer particulate matter is present in extremely high concentration in smoke and that these particles are harmful because they are small and easily inhaled.”

Previous research suggested that minute soot particles from the burning of fuel in vehicles and power plants, which are 2.5 micrometers or smaller can, enter the bloodstream, if inhaled.  Moreover, it is further believed that this alleged PM 2.5 air pollution may have direct connection with heart ailments.

During the months of December 2006 and January 2007, Victoria faced a long lasting chain of wildfires and about a million hectares of land were damaged.

For the research, scientists used medical records to find out the numerical value of cardiac arrests, which took place outside hospitals. Middle aged and elderly citizens of the Metropolitan Melbourne region and the country side were subjected to this study.  By taking account of the smoke dispersion, they were also able to predict regional air quality based on the location and intensity of the fires.

Considering temperature and the factor of humidity, researchers discovered that the threat for cardiac arrest among citizens above the age of 65 increased, and the danger for ER visits due to coronary artery disease also ascended, and women in particular were victims of it. This was all due to a higher concentration of fine particles in the air which dramatically increased over a two-day period.

The Journal of the American Heart Association stated that during the fire, 2,106 people visited the emergency unit of hospitals, 3,274 people were admitted and that there were 457 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests cases.

In the opinion of Haikerwal, “Fine particulates are much more abundant in wildfire smoke than in traffic or industrial pollution.” In addition to that, she said, “We advise the general population . . . to stay indoors, to maintain medication, if they are worried at any stage due to a health condition to seek immediate help.”
According to her, although this study was merely observational, and failed to form any cause and effect, the results may have an impact upon public health messaging in regions which are susceptible to wildfires, such as Australia.



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