Monstrous wildfires not only devastate communities and sometimes kill dozens each year in the U.S., but they also release a toxic brew of hazardous pollution, a new study found.
That pollution, often in the form of microscopic specks known as aerosols, is "a hazard to human health, particularly to the lungs and heart," said study lead author Greg Huey from the Georgia Institute of Technology.
In fact, the study found that fires emit these fine particles — which are much smaller than a grain of sand or a human hair — into the air at a rate three times as high as records kept by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Then people can inhale them. Some particulate matter contains oxidants that cause genetic damage. The particles can drift over long distances and pollute populated areas, where they're inhaled by people.
Uncontrolled wildfires burn much more biomass (trees, bushes, and other organic material) per area than do intentionally set prescribed burns, and pollute at a much higher rate, the study found.
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