Landscape Fire Smoke as a Cause of Death: Burning Vegetation Estimated to Kill Hundreds of Thousands Worldwide

By Weinhold, Bob | Environmental Health Perspectives, May 2012 | Go to article overview

Landscape Fire Smoke as a Cause of Death: Burning Vegetation Estimated to Kill Hundreds of Thousands Worldwide


Weinhold, Bob, Environmental Health Perspectives


The smoke from burning forests, grasslands, agricultural areas, and peatlands contains hundreds of chemicals, and the adverse health effects of exposures to such smoke are becoming better documented. Now a team of Australian, Canadian, and U.S. researchers has calculated the first global estimate of premature deaths from all causes linked with this smoke [EHP 120(5):695-701; Johnston et all.

Satellite and other data provided information on the areas burned each year over the period 1997-2006. The researchers first estimated daily and annual exposures to fine particulate matter (P[M.sup.2.5]), which they used as a surrogate for the many toxic substances in landscape fire smoke, distinguishing between sporadic and chronic smoke exposure. Then they used data on the health effects of smoke-related PM2, to estimate how many deaths could be attributed to landscape fire smoke.

The estimated annual exposure to P[M.sup.2.5], from landscape fire smoke ranged from 0 to 45 [micro]g/[m.sup.3].The region with the highest population-weighted annual average was sub-Saharan Africa, at 12.2 [micro]g/[m.sup.3].

Over the 10-year period, the researchers estimate landscape fire smoke killed an average 339,000 people per year, with a high percentage of deaths occurring in low-income areas. By comparison, urban air pollution kills an estimated 800,000 people per year worldwide, and indoor burning of solid fuels kills an estimated 1. …

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