The Silent of Air Pollution Behind California Wildfire. This paper discusses the California wildfires and their contribution to air pollution that has affected not only the environment but many people’s livelihoods. The seemingly ignored dire situation is also discussed, with examples from numerous sources supporting the fact that air pollution caused by these fires is taking a toll on people. The catalyst to these wildfires is discussed and the resultant smoke waves and particulate matter that is responsible for the environmental pollution and health effects on individuals. Effectively, the case for stronger local air pollution control is discussed while invoking air quality management and environmental pollution efforts in the state. California wildfire is an urgent problem that needs immediate attention from the authorities as well as the federal government.
California wildfires have for a long time featured in the headlines, with those directly affected getting a difficult time coping with the increasing health threat. According to Sadasivam (2019) and Liu et al. (2016), some of the most affected and vulnerable people are those with respiratory conditions such as asthma and groups of people such as students, workers, the elderly, and people of color. Attributes. As a result of the smoke from these wildfires, some citizens have had to forego their work, and classes, with some considering leaving the state for better places (Sadasivam, 2019). It is reported that these wildfires have contributed to the death of about 1,400 people, with many more in the risk of health problems (Sadasivam, 2019). Gupta et al. (2018) and Huang et al., 2019) also state that these wildfires impose other risks such as destruction of property, the said loss of lives through premature deaths, cardiovascular and respiratory problems, and on the bigger scale, hazardous air pollution and climate interference. What is apparent is that California’s wildfires are a threat to public health requiring stern management actions.
In order to tackle air pollution caused by California wildfire, the nature of the problem ought to be identified. According to Westerling & Bryant (2007), California wildfires vary according to four climatic change and vegetation scenarios. Largely, a surge in these fires has been attributed to warmer climatic conditions in the summer as well as reduced levels of precipitation in this period (Westerling & Bryant, 2007). Moreover, faster snowmelts and longer summers have increased susceptibility to wildfires, increasing the risk of damage in California (Westerling & Bryant, 2007). Areas under grass and shrublands are also in a greater risk of wildfires, especially in the drier summer seasons. The availability of moisture is a strong catalyst to the wildfires, as it promotes the growth of vegetation such as grass that would act as fuel in the dry seasons to increase the intensity of fire (Westerling & Bryant, 2007). This moisture will likewise increase vegetation flammability in the dry season. The effect of moisture is however limited by the density of vegetation and the accumulation of vegetation over time to avail fuel that would result in bigger wildfires (Westerling & Bryant, 2007). Understanding the role of vegetation and climate is hence a good prerequisite in focusing on the resultant environmental pollution and air quality management.
California wildfires and the consequent air pollution is mentioned to impact the economy while stressing the local, state and federal authorities (Westerling & Bryant, 2007). Wildfire management in California is said to cost over $1 billion annually, with these costs only poised to go up with the consequent growth of the area and further climate change that makes fire occurrences more common (Westerling & Bryant, 2007). These management efforts extend as well to air quality management in a fight against the air pollution that is quickly becoming a major concern for the residents of California.
According to Gupta et al. (2018) and Huang et al., 2019), particulate matter (PM) or fine particles from wildfires presents one of the biggest threats to the health of people. To monitor the presence of PM, several monitoring techniques have been employed. Such a technique is the satellite remote sensing that is though to be more efficient than other techniques such as the Aerosol optical depth (AOD), in determining the extent of the temporal and spatial distribution of PM (Gupta et al., 2018; Wu, M Winer & J Delfino, 2006). AOD is mentioned to be inhibited inefficiency due to the uncertainty they present while being used. On the other hand, satellite remote sensing has been lauded as a form of low-cost air quality monitor (LCAQM), gaining use with the U.S Environment Protection Agency (EPA) for monitoring PM in California. Air quality management has relied on such techniques, though they have borne mixed results. Nonetheless, the use of LCAQM has gained utility by scientists, the local authority, agencies, and citizens in California to inform exposure measurements (Gupta et al., 2018). With the proliferation of monitoring sensors in the future, more data is likely to suffice on the extent of damage. This will then be used to inform important mitigation strategies regarding wildfires and air pollution.
A study by Liu et al. (2016) helps identify the areas and populations at the most risk of exposure to PM through smoke waves. Northern California is mentioned amongst other areas such as Western Oregon and the Great Plains as a place with the highest level of exposure to air pollution in the form of wildfire smoke. This Northern California area is particularly prone to long periods of exposure that may occur with higher intensity (Liu et al., 2016). The data projected by Liu et al., (2016) could be used to make informed decisions on the wildfire management. Likewise, this data should typically be used in the public health domain and in arriving at climate change policies that would mitigate the effects of wildfires. As such, the US wildfire management and evacuation programs are empowered to initiate activities to tame air pollution and its effects on the people of California.
A document enlisting best practices in dealing with wildfires and the pollution has brought some entities such as Incident Command (IC), EPA Region 9, California Department of Public Health (CDPH), and FEMA, amongst others together. These entities are allocated tasks and activities that range from responding to fires and mobilizing support and resources to mitigate the effects (California Air Response Planning Alliance, 2014). Some of these entities are also enlisted to plan air monitoring data collection, and can as well request for ambient air monitoring assistance to get equipment such as those monitoring PM, to use for air quality management (California Air Response Planning Alliance, 2014). Public health guidelines spelled by the California Air Resources Board (2019) similarly recognize the extent of damage caused by wildfires in the areas of environmental pollution and recommend strategies to reduce exposure. Such include the use of central air systems, swamp coolers, and portable air conditioners that are useful in air quality management (The California Air Resources Board, 2019). Air quality management also encompasses timely communication to the public in the aftermath of air quality monitoring for wildfire smokes. To achieve this, the California Air Resources Board (2019) board suggests the use of tools and sites such as the Air Quality Index (AQI) and the AirNow website (www.airnow.gov) to get vital air quality information
California wildfires are a cause of concern to not only individuals living in the state, but the international and national entities as well. Air pollution experienced in this area as a result of exposure to smoke waves and PM spreads to other areas as well to affect the overall climate. This might not be noticed immediately, but the cumulative effects are likely to be felt in years to come. The vulnerable populations that continue to live in majorly affected areas such as western California will continue to suffer unless the situation is mitigated by appropriate air quality management techniques. Determining the level of damage, as is done with the satellite remote sensing is a positive step towards making proactive and reactive changes to policies and legislation that may help alleviate the problem.
Wildfires are not unique to California. Other areas mentioned to be affected, such as in Europe, continue to grapple with the same air pollution problems. This calls for an international approach in solving the challenges that wildfires bring. While a majority of the wildfires are naturally-occurring, human activities are certainly to blame for increased intensity and prolonged instances. Air quality management should, therefore, extend towards addressing a reduction of destructive activities such as land use, and man-made and urban environmental pollution caused by industries and various machines. It is a shame that emissions from these wildfires are underestimated while EPA US ought to regulate them (Singh et al, 2012). I believe there is an urgent need to embark on new efforts aimed at controlling the fires and improving overall air quality.