Pollution from forest fires is impacting the health of people with asthma and other chronic obstructive lung diseases, finds a study in Biomed Central's open access journal Environmental Health. This study uses data from pharmacies and dispensaries to measure the increase in drugs needed to alleviate symptoms associated with pollution.
Forest fires burn nearly 1000 km2 of trees in British Columbia every year. The Ministry of Environment keeps a close watch on levels of particulate matter in the air caused by these fires but it is harder to measure the impact of this pollution on the health of people unless they are admitted to hospital.
Researchers from British Columbia Centre for Disease Control and University of British Columbia used dispensary records to find out if forest fires caused an increase in use of short acting beta agonist (SABA) such as salbutamol. Salbutamol sulphate is typically used as an inhaler to relive symptoms of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other obstructive lung diseases.
What they found was that pollution due to forest fires increased the need for salbutamol for up to 4 days after the fire - even a relatively small increase in smoke (10µg/m3 increase in PM2.5) was associated with a 6% increase in salbutamol dispensations.
Dr Catherine Elliott, who led this study commented, "Our study shows that forest fires and pollution are impacting the health of people with chronic lung diseases. It also shows that it is possible to measure public health by monitoring dispensary databases, and that dispensary data shows effects in small populations, that have not been found in studies on other health measures such as visits to physicians' offices. This information is often routinely collected, and available for the entire population, consequently it is possible to perform more meaningful analysis."
Article adapted by Medical News Today from original press release. Click 'references' tab above for source.
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Time series analysis of fine particulate matter and asthma reliever dispensations in populations affected by forest fires
Catherine T Elliott, Sarah B Henderson and Victoria Wan
Environmental Health (in press) BioMed Central
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and smoke travels...
posted by MaryB on 17 Feb 2013 at 4:32 pm
I live in central Texas, and every year in early May, I have to use albuterol when the smoke from the planned burnings on the Yucatan peninsula travel across the Gulf of Mexico across Texas and we go into 1-2 weeks of PM pollution. I wish I could send them my bill for the medicines...
I do not find this supprising, as an asthma sufferer I get my worst asthma attacks when I live in the city and there is an increase of wood smoke (from forest fires or home wood stoves). On of these by themselves won't trigger the asthma attacks, heck I grew up using wood smoke with no asthma attacks attributed to it.
When the attack does happen I my inhaler barely worked on my last attack (I've had 3 in the last decade) and I have to use advil cold and sinus liqid gel after 3 months to stop coughing (nothing the doctors had me to stopped the coughing, the advil did, and let my inhalers work like they were supposed to)
All smoke contains particulate matter that causes many people to have respiratory problems. If one takes a look at what is happening in Beijing, China right now with air pollution one can see that fires need to be put out immediately to lessen pollution and save lives. Planned burns need to be looked at in more depth to avoid releasing more pollution into the air we all need to breathe. Perhaps burning is faster and easier but at what cost? Mulching is a far better Idea as Clive Stott has suggested.
All open burning should be eliminated in residential areas where homes are so close together that there is no escaping the smoke.
We know that open fires of any sort cause a rise in fine particulate matter that is harmful to health not only to susceptible groups, ie those with asthma and COPD. It also affects those with cardiac disease for example and even healthy adults.
What we need to look at is whether we are geared up to handle these fires once they start, and to prevent these fires starting in the first place.
First responders need to have the means to put these fires out as soon as they start, not let them go on burning. This could mean Canadair aircraft on hand ready to go. Once the fires get a hold they are difficult to control under adverse weather conditions.
Messing around with pumps, hoses, and knapsack spray units is too little in lots of instances and puts volunteers lives at risk. Studies have shown firefighters have higher than normal rates of lung disease caused by smoke.
We also need to look at planned burning. Many of these burns escape and grow out of control. Smoke from planned burns is a real problem, they shouldn't be lit if smoke will travel to populated areas.
In, and on the fringes of, urban areas trees and shrubs should be discouraged if they are the type that burn easily, ie, gum trees that have high content of natural oils that burst into flame. Mulching is another proven method of fire suppression. Fire departments and the EPA could be more proactive in advising suitable types.
Most asthmatics have prescribed medications at home to use in the case of smoke for example. These people would not normally present to pharmacies when the smoke is bad or even in a few days of the event because they are way too sick to be able to. I think the study highlights very well the adverse health damage caused by toxic smoke from fires, and shows it is not just asthma sufferers that are suffering.
'Forest Fires And Pollution Are Impacting The Health Of People With Chronic Lung Diseases'
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