Long term exposure to wildfires could trigger severe respiratory problems
One of the worst fire seasons in Montana’s history could be triggering asthma, pneumonia and COPD in Montanans closest to the fumes.
This summer's raging wildfires have caused people in valley regions like Helena and Lincoln to reach for their inhaler and even check into emergency rooms.
"When you add all of those up, you look at the cumulative effects. We're looking a Los Angles quality air from one year to the next, so that long term effect for people who are breathing compromised, can definitely make a difference,” said Jay Plant, an environmental health specialist.
Several studies have concluded that urban air pollution and wood-burning stoves can put a strain on the lungs, but there is no exact evidence pinpointing the long-term effects of wildfire air exposure, something biomass smoke researcher Chris Migliaccio, research assistant professor at The University of Montana, is trying to prove.
“As wildfires are becoming not only more common, but the duration are increasing, so we're getting more and more people exposed to wildfire smoke at higher concentrations and longer durations, said Migliaccio.
A lack of funding is making it extremely difficult to draw this conclusion--and by extension-- properly treat and help patients. However, there are a few things those affected can to do help alleviate symptoms.
"Definitely use your air conditioning, especially in the summer months when the smoke is thickest, don't open your windows for ventilation,” said Plant.
The health department also recommends getting an air filter and says do not use a mask, because if not properly fitted it can make breathing even harder.
Chris' research group has applied for a grant, but it could take more than a year to get approved. So for now, asthma and pneumonia suffers will be left guessing as to what exactly is triggering their symptoms.