The University of Oregon in Eugene is launching a new research program to study effects of wildfire smoke and examine options for reducing risks. UO research professor Cass Moseley told KGW News that the center’s launch is due in part to efforts by Oregon’s U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, who secured $800,000 in funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Research will focus in part on new ways to protect homes from smoke infiltration, along with more efficient communication with communities in emergencies and developing community action plans tailored to different regions in the Northwest.
The new Wildfire Smoke Research and Practice Center builds on research already completed through the Ecosystem Workforce Program (EWP), a joint venture between the UO and Oregon State University. KLCC reported that the EWP’s senior policy advisor Cass Moseley will head up the new center; she said recent incidents in the Pacific Northwest, particularly the 2020 Labor Day fires, highlighted the need for new smoke research. Much of Oregon, particularly the southern Willamette Valley, was choked with wildfire smoke for weeks during the 2020 fire season.
Those fires and the severe levels of smoke really emphasized the need for new research, according to Moseley. “And we saw this fall in Oakridge, several weeks of highly dense smoke as the fire there settled into that valley and really stayed; that community spent a lot of time and energy responding to that smoke event.”
The center’s launch was announced by Merkley and Wyden, who secured the funding to help communities prepare for wildfire smoke. One area of interest is the toxins released when manmade structures burn, as these risks became obvious during western Oregon fires in wildland/urban interface areas over the last few years. Most smoke research has focused on burning timber and wooden structures, and part of the new planned research will study effects of smoke from burning plastics, glass, fuels, and other synthetic materials. Moseley said the center has three co-investigators and a principal investigator leading the group, along with research assistants and graduate and undergraduate student assistants.