The future of wildland fire smoke research

JFSP smoke research planThe Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP) has released their plan for wildland fire smoke research. The 58-page document outlines their priorities for funding smoke research through 2015.

Much of the emphasis appears to be directed at how to deal with the public’s perception and tolerance of smoke. Smoke is becoming an increasingly sensitive subject to the population due to larger wildfires burning for longer periods of time, concern about the effects of wildfire smoke on global warming, and prescribed fires continuing to be an important tool for land managers.

One aspect of wildfire smoke that Wildfire Today has written about frequently is the short and long term effects of smoke on the health of firefighters. On April 23, 2010 we covered the study that NIOSH and the U.S. Fire Administration are conducting about cancer among structural firefighters. We called out the land management agencies and the firefighting associations:

There needs to be a concerted effort to conduct a similar study on wildland firefighters. It should be led by a physician/epidemiologist and should evaluate the long term health and occurrence of cancer and other diseases among wildland firefighters. There is a lot of grant money out there and it should be possible to get some of it pointed towards this overlooked niche of firefighting.

Followups to that article are HERE and HERE.

The JFSP five-year plan does mention research on the effects of smoke on wildland firefighters, but at times it seems like an afterthought. For example, the objective for one of four research themes, “Smoke and Populations”, sometimes includes the “impact of smoke on populations” (page 26), and in other places it is described as “impact of smoke on populations and fire fighters” (page 21).

However, the plan does list some specific “Smoke Science Foci” that may benefit firefighters:

  • 2011: (SSP T3 -2): Epidemiological research/literature review to determine human health risk from high PM loadings.
  • 2011 (SSP T3-4): Fire fighter smoke health hazards: trends in health and exposure.
  • 2012 (SSP T3-5): Review of epidemiological research to determine human health risk from high PM, high ozone and high aromatic hydrocarbon loadings with a focus on synergisms between pollutants.

We hope that the “foci” turns into actual research.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

2 thoughts on “The future of wildland fire smoke research”

  1. How can a study like this be taken seriously. I personally know ODF (oregon department of forestry) has allowed drug users to return to wildfire work, and even gave them a second job in restoration after the fire season was over. I just wonder if a study like this can be taken seriously by the agencies involved and to what extent that might be? I’ve been told by admin. people at ODF that quote:

    “The State of Oregon is currently developing pre-employment drug testing policies. Once those policies are developed the state will work with management and the labor associations to implement as appropriate.”

    Since ODF employee information is private: I feel a lot of the feedback for a given study like this might be fabricated.

  2. One of the interesting points that may be overlooked are the (literally) toxic materials that naturally occur in vegetation — poison ivy, poison oak, etc as a start! Granted, incineration is a commonly used practice for destroying certain materials but that is under controlled conditions at very high temps. What are the thermal breakdown products of say black walnut leaves that contain juglone? Or any of the oaks that contain tannins and phenolics?

    Lots of fodder here for studies!


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