A study by the University of Kansas found that firefighters are more likely to have prematurely narrowed arteries, which increases their risk for strokes and heart attacks. The data shows that 22 percent of a group of 77 firefighters studied by researchers at the University of Kansas averaged 39 years old but had the blood vessels of 52-year-olds because of significant plaque buildup in their carotid arteries.
The researchers said the reasons could include stress, exposure to smoke, diet, and their sleep patterns.
Cardiovascular disease has been associated with 45 percent of the on-duty deaths of firefighters in the United States, compared with 36 percent for other lines of work. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has reported that sudden cardiac deaths are the leading cause of death in the line of duty for firefighters.
The wreckage of the January 9, 2008 crash on Interstate 4 in Florida. The Ledger.
Last year Wildfire Today covered the January 9 escaped prescribed fire near Interstate 4 between Orlando and Tampa. An unexpected drop in the relative humidity, according to Division of Forestry investigators, caused the 50-acre project to get out of control and burn an additional 200 acres and one of their dozers. The smoke mixed with fog and reduced visibility on Interstate 4, causing a 70-vehicle accident that claimed the lives of 5 people.
Friday the eleventh of 12 reports about the accident, covering 24 of the 70 vehicles, was released. Here are some excerpts from The Ledger:
No charges will be filed in the biggest crash that claimed the most lives in last year’s massive Interstate 4 pileup, prosecutors said Friday.
Smoke, fog and human error led to the 24-vehicle crash that left four people dead, according to a report released on Friday by the Florida Highway Patrol.
Visibility was very poor, investigators wrote, but the fact that a number of drivers were able to stop, pull over and avoid a collision shows that some crashes during the morning of Jan. 9, 2008, could have been avoided.
The report released Friday dealt with one of a series of crashes that happened that morning, when, in all, 70 cars collided on I-4 in dense fog and smoke.
Over and over, drivers told FHP they drove into a wall of smoke and fog, the report shows. But investigators attributed most crashes to drivers not slowing down enough.
“As bad as the conditions were at the scene, it was possible to avoid crashing into other vehicles,” the report said. “Those vehicles that were able to stop were then involved in this crash due to the careless driving of others.”
The report concluded the smoke came from a nearby wildfire that had started when a controlled burn set north of I-4 by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission got out of control as weather conditions changed unexpectedly.
Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson said a month after the crash that the smoke from the fire played no part in the near-zero visibility. And at the time, some officials said fog alone was to blame or that smoke from burning vehicles in the first crashes contributed to problems for later drivers.
But the FHP report backs up what was said by drivers involved in the crashes, including a Polk County sheriff’s deputy, who insisted they were nearly blinded by a combination of smoke and fog.
There has been one lawsuit over the pileup filed in Polk County against the wildlife commission. There have been five other lawsuits among drivers and companies that owned vehicles in the crashes.
INVESTIGATING THE FIRE
After the accidents, the state has investigated whether there were mistakes involving the controlled burn that grew into the wildfire and contributed to the wrecks.
But state officials maintain everything went by the book and that the book doesn’t need changing. Unpredictable weather changes are to blame, they say.
Division of Forestry spokesman Gerry LaCavera said conditions were fine to start the burn in the Hilochee Wildlife Management Area off I-4. The forestry division was responsible for issuing wildlife commission workers the permit for the controlled burn.
State investigators say the problem started when humidity dropped unexpectedly, and flames began to jump the controlled burn’s lines.
LaCavera said there haven’t been any changes at the Division of Forestry since the crashes last year.
“We haven’t seen a new need for them,” LaCavera said.
He said people within the Division of Forestry check forecasts each morning before issuing burn permits.
“It is based on the best information,” LaCavera said.
On Friday, Gary Morse, a spokesman with Fish and Wildlife, declined comment, citing legal action some of the drivers have taken against Fish and Wildlife.
An editorial in the Redding Searchlight complains that wood stoves and industry are not the only sources of air pollution and that the government should do a lot more to prevent the massive amount of smoke from large fires.
Our view: The government shouldn’t ignore pollution from the public forests.
We think we have this straight.
If residents’ fireplaces and woodstoves fill the air with schmutz, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lays down the law, requiring no-burn days and other tough rules to keep the region in compliance with federal air-quality standards.
But if a wildfire does the same thing – indeed, even if it pushes pollution measurements off the charts for weeks – it’s something that “just happens.”
Funny, to the kids at soccer practice or the gardeners weeding their tomato patch, the smoke does the same harm.
Yet the EPA doesn’t take wildfire smoke seriously as a health threat, granting exemptions to counties that endure a summertime brown cloud blowing from neighboring forests on the theory that we can’t really control the blazes.
While last summer’s wave of lightning-sparked fires was one for the record books, the flames were remarkable only for their scope. In California, summer fires are as predictable as sunny 100-degree days. And while we can’t – and, biologists say, shouldn’t – stop all of them, we do know how to reduce the risk that those fires will blow out of control.
In the meantime, though, north state counties will seek waivers from the EPA so the fires won’t mar our otherwise fine air-quality record. Shasta and surrounding counties meet strict new rules for fine dust, a relatively rare feat in California.
As a bureaucratic imperative, that makes sense. Residents shouldn’t be forced to cure a problem that’s not of their making.
But maybe we’d be better off if we treated the forests as the gross polluters they’ve become. If federal management is part of the problem, the federal government should take responsibility for its share – just as Knauf Insulation or the drivers of diesel trucks must.
Wildfire smoke on the scale we’ve seen recently isn’t something that “just happens.” It’s the product of a paralyzing thicket of federal laws, along with the long-term failure to invest in the fuel management that the government’s own plans call for.
If the federal government were to commit the cash to seriously reduce wildfire risks in Northern California’s public forests, we’d all breathe easier each summer in more ways than one.
On Wednesday, smoke from burn piles mixed with fog to reduce the visibility to the point that Highway 44 between Redding, CA and Reno, NV had to be closed between 4:00 and 11:30 a.m. The 18 piles, each about 1/2 acre in size, were created by workers clearing a firebreak near Bogard, according to a spokesman from the Lassen National Forest. On a typical day, about 1,600 vehicles travel that section of Highway 44 near the Shasta County line.
It was just on November 21 that Wildfire Today covered a new study about the effects of smoke on wildland firefighters. Now another new study on the emissions from wildland fires provides more data on the particulates produced by the fires and how they affect the public. Some of the findings include:
The health threat to city dwellers posed by Southern California wildfires like those of November 2008 may have been underestimated by officials.
Detailed particulate analysis of the smoke produced by previous California wild fires indicates that the composition posed more serious potential threats to health than is generally realized, according to a new paper analyzing particulate matter (PM) from wildfires in Southern California.
The paper, entitled “Physicochemical and Toxicological Profile of Particulate Matter (PM) in Los Angeles during the October 2007 Southern California Wildfires,” will appear in Environmental Science and Technology. It confirms earlier studies by air polllution specialist Constantinos Sioutas of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, who is also co-director of the Southern California Particle Center.
For the study Sioutas and colleagues from USC, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and RIVM (the National Institute of Health and the Environment of the Netherlands) analyzed the particular matter gathered during the fall 2007 blazes.
“Fire emissions produce a significantly larger aerosol in size than typically seen in urban environments during periods affected by traffic sources, which emit mostly ultrafine particles,” Sioutas said.
“Staying indoors may not provide protection from smoke particles in the absence of air conditioning or the ability to recirculate filtered indoor air. This is because the fire particles can penetrate indoor structures more readily than particles from vehicular emissions.”
According to Sioutas, the fires produce a dangerous mix. “The chemical composition of particles during the fire episodes is different than that during ‘normal’ days impacted by traffic sources.
The ability of the particulates to penetrate structures, even if windows are closed, and their potential ability to be absorbed by human tissues are a matter of concern. “More aggressive measures to avoid smoke seem to deserve study, including distribution of masks and evacuation to air conditioned environments, and closure of non-smoke secured schools,” said Sioutas, who holds the school’s Fred Champion Professorship of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
The study’s recommendation about the “distribution of masks” is questionable, in light of other data reported by Wildfire Today. If they are referring to the cheap, disposable dust masks, the information we have seen (below) indicates that they cannot remove the small particulates in wildland fire smoke.