Smoke from wildfire disasters kills many more people than direct exposure to wildfire flames, and impacts many more communities than the communities located directly in wildfire perimeters. Direct exposure to the 2018 California wildfires caused 104 deaths statewide, but smoke from those fires were responsible for over 3,500 more.1 The United States currently lacks a systematic way to track health impacts (and associated costs) of wildfire smoke. This critical knowledge gap inhibits our nation’s ability to effectively recover from, respond to, and prevent future wildfire disasters.
The Biden-Harris Administration should address this gap by establishing a national public record of wildfire-smoke health impacts: a resource that would enable better accounting of wildfire costs and would support evaluation of the cost-effectiveness of efforts to prevent and mitigate catastrophic wildfires. Specifically, the Biden-Harris Administration should take the following actions to improve understanding of wildfire-smoke health impacts, better guide investments into wildfire management, and ultimately reduce the costs of wildfire disasters:
- Systematically track mortality and morbidity due to smoke from wildfire disasters.
- Fund research to better understand the scale of wildfire-smoke health impacts, and to develop cost-effective approaches for reducing those impacts.
- Ensure that approaches to respond to, recover from, and prevent wildfire disasters include goals to equitably reduce the wildfire-smoke health impacts.
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As the wildfire season has grown longer in the West, smoke events now sometimes stretch for weeks and across the continent. What is the federal government doing about wildland fire smoke, and who’s doing it?