NBC News: cancer among firefighters

Above: Firefighter working on a smoky wildfire at Buffalo Gap, South Dakota, March 3, 2016.

(Originally published at 10 p.m. MDT October 23, 2017)

This report by NBC News about the rising rates of cancer among firefighters exclusively shows the structural side of the job. Obviously they are exposed to different toxins than their wildland brothers, so it is unknown how much the data crosses over. One of the big differences between the two disciplines is that for structure and vehicle fires a breathing apparatus (BA) is always available. Firefighters on wildland fires NEVER have access to BAs, which only last for minutes, while they can be exposed to smoke for most of their shifts which on large fires are typically up to 16 hours. And wildland firefighters rarely have the opportunity to, as the video recommends, change clothes and shower within an hour after exposure.

In 2010 we began calling for the wildland fire agencies to conduct a study led by medical doctors and epidemiologists to evaluate the short and long term effects of smoke on firefighters. The federal agencies that should take the lead on this are the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Forest Service. State agencies with significant numbers of wildland firefighters need to also be involved.

It is possible that the agencies that employ firefighters do not want to expose the facts about the dangers of smoke. It could cost them money to change their practices, provide a safer workplace, and cover the costs of presumptive illnesses.

Various bills have been introduced in Congress that would establish a cancer registry for firefighters, but to our knowledge none have passed.

Here is an excerpt from an article we wrote March 17, 2017:

“On Wednesday [March 15, 2017] a Montana legislative committee voted down a bill that would have provided benefits for firefighters who developed a lung disease on the job. Republican Mark Noland of Bigfork said firefighters “know what they’re doing”, and:

That is their profession, that is what they chose, and we do not want to, you know, slight them in any way, shape or form, but it is something they’re going into with their eyes wide open.

That is asinine, ridiculous, reprehensible, and irresponsible.

Rep. Mark Noland
Rep. Mark Noland of Bigfork, MT.

He is assuming that when firefighters began their careers they knew there was a good chance they would damage their lungs. If that is common knowledge now, or was 20 years ago when the firefighter signed up, why haven’t the employers already established coverage for presumptive diseases? There is a great deal we do not know about the effects of breathing contaminated air on structure, vehicle, and wildland fires.

Many agencies and government bodies have already established a list of presumptive diseases that will enable health coverage for firefighters. For example the British Columbia government recognizes at least nine “presumptive cancers” among firefighters, including leukemia, testicular cancer, lung cancer, brain cancer, bladder cancer, ureter cancer, colorectal cancer, and non-Hodgkins’s lymphoma.

The Montana legislation would have only covered one of these nine illnesses.

When a person enlists in the military and they come home injured or permanently disabled, should we ignore them, saying they knew what they were getting into? Their “eyes were wide open”? How is treating firefighters injured on the job different? One could argue that they are both defending and protecting our homeland; one of them actually IN our homeland while the other may have been on the other side of the world.” [Update October 23, 2017: for example in an African country, Niger, many Americans have never heard of].

Wildfire smoke maps, October 12, 2017

(Originally published at 7:04 p.m. PDT October 12, 2017)

The map above shows smoke from wildfires in northern California at 5:35 p.m. PDT October 12, 2017.

Below is a forecast for wildfire smoke at 6 p.m. PDT October 13, 2017.

map wildfire smoke forecast
A forecast for wildfire smoke at 6 p.m. PDT October 13, 2017.


Wildfire smoke travels to Paris

From NASA’s Earth Observatory:

On September 5, 2017, residents of the Pacific Northwest awoke to ash falling from the sky like snow. But even as ash hit the ground, wildfires burning across the western United States and Canada lofted smoke high into the atmosphere. Some of it drifted all the way to Europe.

Snapshots of the smoke’s intercontinental journey are shown in the maps above. The data were collected from September 4–7 by the Ozone Mapping Profiler Suite (OMPS) on the Suomi NPP satellite. The maps show relative aerosol concentrations, with lower concentrations in yellow and higher concentrations in dark orange-brown.

Throughout the series, high concentrations of aerosols appear over their sources in the Pacific Northwest. But prevailing winds also swept up the high-altitude smoke aerosols and carried them east across the continent. On September 4, the smoke appears to have arrived over the U.S. Midwest, and by September 5 it reached Newfoundland. By September 6, the smoke cloud is obvious over the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

“You can see that the smoke cloud on September 6 is part of the long stream of smoke emanating from the Pacific Northwest,” said Colin Seftor, an atmospheric scientist working for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “It almost looks like it was flung across the Atlantic.”

By September 7, the smoke had arrived over Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France. These aerosols are high in the atmosphere, so they are not a serious concern for near-ground air quality and human health. Still, it shows how events on one continent can have effects halfway around the world.

“It’s not that uncommon for smoke from fires in North America to reach Europe,” Seftor said. He has casually noticed, however, that the smoke clouds reaching Europe this year seem to be larger and thicker. He also points out that they seem to be more persistent; large fires in mid-August sent smoke to Europe that hung around for days.

Wildfires were burning long before these maps were compiled, and they continue to burn even now. This natural-color image shows smoke across the upper Midwest on September 13, 2017, as observed by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. Record heat in parts of the U.S. West has been cited as a possible cause for the widespread fire activity this year—which was somewhat unexpected, given the region’s wet winter and spring.

“There has been a lot of smoke over the whole northern hemisphere this year, and that is somewhat striking to me,” Seftor said. “It’s going to take awhile for everything to dissipate.”

NASA Earth Observatory images by Jesse Allen and Jeff Schmaltz, using Suomi NPP OMPS data provided courtesy of Colin Seftor (SSAI), and MODIS data from LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response. Story by Kathryn Hansen.

Smoke map, Thursday night

Above: map showing the distribution of smoke from wildfires in the United States and Canada. Created by NOAA at 9:31 p.m. MDT September 14, 2017.

Maybe the rain expected in the Northern Rockies Friday and Saturday will clear out some of the smoke.

Forecast for Friday and Saturday
Forecast for Friday and Saturday. Weather.com

Wildfire smoke Sunday, and a forecast for Monday

Above: The map shows the distribution of smoke from wildfires at 3:54 p.m. MDT September 10, 2017.

(Originally published at 5:45 p.m. MDT September 10, 2017)

The map above shows the distribution of wildfire smoke Sunday afternoon. Below are two different forecasts for Monday.

smoke map September 11, 2017 wildfire
This a forecast for the distribution of smoke from wildfires at 5 p.m. MDT September 11, 2017. NOAA.
smoke map September 11, 2017 wildfire
This a forecast for the distribution of smoke from wildfires at 1 p.m. MDT September 11, 2017. (Good luck figuring out the nine shades of red in the legend.) BlueSky.

Wildfire smoke maps, September 7, 2017

Above: The map shows the distribution of wildfire smoke during the afternoon of September 7, 2017.

(Originally published at 6:04 p.m. MDT September 7, 2017.)

The map below is the experimental forecast for noon MDT on Friday September 8, 2017. Both products are from NOAA.

smoke map wildfire
The map is an experimental product — a forecast for smoke at noon MDT on Friday September 8, 2017.