Particle pollution from wildfires, long known for containing soot and other fine particles known to be dangerous to human health, is much worse than previously thought, a new study shows.
Naturally burning timber and brush from wildfires release dangerous particles into the air at a rate three times as high as levels known by the EPA, researchers at Georgia Tech found.
Scientists sampled air quality by flying planes directly into thick plumes from three major wildfires, including the 2013 Rim Fire, the largest wildfire in the Sierra Nevada. Previous EPA data was based on plume samples from controlled burns. Greg Huey is the study’s lead author.
“Under the conditions of the prescribed fires, it seems like you can get a smaller impact on air quality, So I think an extrapolation is that if you had more prescribed burning you might prevent some wildfires and in the process of doing that you would also probably help air quality issues,” Huey says.
The study also found wildfires spew methanol, benzene, ozone and other noxious chemicals.