Wildfires May Boost Ozone Levels in Cities: Study

FRIDAY, Feb. 5, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Wildfire smoke may boost levels of dangerous ozone air pollution, researchers report.

Colorado State University scientists analyzed data collected over nearly 10 years at hundreds of air monitoring sites across the United States.

They found that ozone levels were higher on days when there was wildfire smoke in the air than on days without the smoke.

This association was particularly evident in certain areas, including the Northeast corridor, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Birmingham and Kansas City, according to the study published recently in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

This is “not what you’d expect,” because most wildfires don’t occur near cities, study co-author Emily Fischer, an assistant professor of atmospheric science, noted in a university news release. However, the study data showed that as wildfire smoke plumes travel, higher levels of ozone are more likely to occur in cities than in rural areas.

That suggests that wildfire smoke interacts with pollutants in city air to create ozone, the researchers explained.

Ozone air pollution can harm the lungs, and poses the greatest threat to the young, elderly and people with asthma. It also damages crops and ecosystems, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of wildfires, the researchers added.

More information

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has more about ozone air pollution.