Over 2 million acres burned in Flint Hills in 28 days

map Flint Hills burning
Map showing heat detected by satellites during the last seven days. Updated at 1 p.m. CDT April 19, 2019.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) says the average annual acreage burned in the Flint Hills during the prescribed fire season was almost matched over the past month. Most of the burning is related to agriculture, improving pastures or preparing crop lands.

map flint hillsAlmost 2.1 million acres of grassland were treated with fire between March 15 and April 12. KDHE said roughly 2.5 million acres are burned annually.

The reporting time period includes 21 counties in Kansas and Oklahoma.

KDHE said burns from April 8-9 caused six air quality exceedances across parts of Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. There were no air quality exceedances due to burns last year.

acres burned county flint hills

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Matt. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Establishment of firefighter cancer registry is progressing

The next step is to collect input from firefighters and stakeholders on an approach to the Registry including potential enrollment methods

A firefighter works a blaze in Northern California. Photo courtesy CAL FIRE.
A firefighter works a blaze in Northern California during the fires in Wine Country in 2017. Photo courtesy of CAL FIRE.

(UPDATED at 10 a.m. MDT March 28, 2019)

The Request for Information about the new National Firefighter Registry described below was published today. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), an agency within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is requesting input about three possible enrollment strategies. Specifically, NIOSH is asking for input on how to maximize participation for the Registry. The comment period will close on May 28th, 2019.

The process for leaving a comment is convoluted. They ask you to click on this link and then you have to search for the appropriate issue. I searched for “National Firefighter Registry” which brought up 208 results. When I checked today it was the first one.

When found, you have to click in the search results on “Comment Now”(over on the right)  Maybe THIS will take you directly to the comment form.

Keep in mind that any information (e.g., personal or contact) you provide on the comment form may be publicly disclosed and searchable on the Internet and in a paper docket. But you don’t have to leave your name or email address.


(Originally published at 2:41 p.m. MDT March 27, 2019)

In April, 2017 a bill was introduced in Congress that would establish a registry to track the occurrence of cancer among firefighters. A version of the bill was finally signed into law on July 7, 2018. Now, eight months later it appears that the creation of the registry is some distance from becoming a reality, but we can report some progress.

The legislation called it a Firefighter Cancer Registry, but it appears that the name has changed to National Firefighter Registry — a vague term which does not provide a clue about the purpose.

Kenny Fent is the Team Lead for what will become the National Firefighter Registry Program. Mr. Fent is a Research Industrial Hygienist with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He told us that soon the agency will post a Request for Information (RFI) to the Federal Register regarding the Registry. During a 60-day period they will seek input on an approach to the Registry including potential enrollment methods. All stakeholders, including firefighters, will be encouraged to review the document and respond with comments.

NIOSH-CDC logoOnce the Registry design is finalized, CDC/NIOSH will begin enrollment. Where possible, CDC/NIOSH will collect work history and exposure records to explore the relationship between exposures and cancer. They will also link with state cancer registries to confirm diagnoses. Findings will be shared through scientific publications and communications to stakeholders and the public.

Previous studies, including a study completed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in 2014, have highlighted firefighters’ increased risk for certain cancers compared to the general population. However, few previous studies have collected data about wildland firefighters, volunteer firefighters, or sufficient numbers of female and minority firefighters in order to draw conclusions regarding their risk of cancer.

In one study that collected data from wildland firefighters in the field, a group of researchers concluded that firefighters’ exposure to smoke can increase the risk of mortality from lung cancer, ischemic heart disease, and cardiovascular disease by 22 to 39 percent. The project only looked at the wildland fire environment, and was not a long term study of firefighters’ health.

The ultimate goal of the Registry is to better understand the link between workplace exposures and cancer among firefighters. The Registry will include all U.S. firefighters, not just those with a cancer diagnosis. The Registry also has the potential to provide a better understanding of cancer risk among subgroups such as women, minorities, and volunteers, and among sub-specialties of the fire service like instructors, wildland firefighters, and arson investigators.

From the Registry information, CDC/NIOSH will estimate an overall rate of cancer for firefighters. They might find certain groups of firefighters are at a higher risk of cancer than others based on level of exposure, geography, gender, or other factors. They may also find that certain protective measures are associated with a reduced risk for cancer, which could provide additional evidence and support for specific control interventions.

The Registry will be completely voluntary, and no one can force a person to join.

All active and retired as well as volunteer, paid-on-call, and career firefighters will be encouraged to join the Registry, regardless of their current health status.

CDC/NIOSH promises that they will always maintain participants’ privacy and will never share personal information with an outside organization including fire departments, unions, or other researchers without permission of the individual.

Resources for learning about effects of exposure to wildland fire smoke

wildland fire smoke exposure
Cover of USFS publication.

Last week the Northern Rockies Fire Science Network conducted a live webinar titled,  “Smoke Exposure Health Effects and Mitigations for Wildland Fire Personnel: Current Research and Recommendations.” The one-hour presentation was very informative and heavily emphasized how smoke from burning vegetation can be hazardous to your health, especially for firefighters. Below is the recorded version, and following that is a list of resources identified in the webinar that provide more information about the effects of wildland fire smoke. I suggest that firefighters make the video a part of their annual refresher training.

We have written dozens of times about smoke and the research efforts directed toward evaluating the effects on humans. Articles that describe the effects are all tagged “smoke & health” on Wildfire Today. At this writing there are 17 of them. This article is the 18th.

In addition to those resources, here are others that were listed in last week’s webinar. Where possible, we downloaded them to the Wildfire Today web site in order to preserve the documents.

Researchers compare smoke emissions from prescribed and wild fires

DC-10 drop North Park Fire
A DC-10 comes out of the smoke dropping retardant on the North Park Fire in Southern California, October 12, 2018. Screen grab from @ABC7Leticia video.

Four researchers, in a study funded by the U.S. Forest Service, evaluated data collected in 25 previous studies to compare exposure to particulate matter (PM2.5) created by prescribed fires and wildfires. The authors were Kathleen Navarro, Don Schweizer, John Balmes, and Ricardo Cisneros. Titled, A Review of Community Smoke Exposure from Wildfire Compared to Prescribed Fire in the United States, it is published under Open Access guidelines.

Below are excerpts from the study — the abstract and conclusions. And, information about a March 21 webinar featuring Ms. Navarro about the health effects of vegetation smoke.


Abstract

Prescribed fire, intentionally ignited low-intensity fires, and managed wildfires-wildfires that are allowed to burn for land management benefit-could be used as a land management tool to create forests that are resilient to wildland fire. This could lead to fewer large catastrophic wildfires in the future. However, we must consider the public health impacts of the smoke that is emitted from wildland and prescribed fire.

The objective of this synthesis is to examine the differences in ambient community-level exposures to particulate matter (PM2.5) from smoke in the United States in relation to two smoke exposure scenarios-wildfire fire and prescribed fire. A systematic search was conducted to identify scientific papers to be included in this review. TheWeb of Science Core Collection and PubMed, for scientific papers, and Google Scholar were used to identify any grey literature or reports to be included in this review. Sixteen studies that examined particulate matter exposure from smoke were identified for this synthesis-nine wildland fire studies and seven prescribed fire studies. PM2.5 concentrations from wildfire smoke were found to be significantly lower than reported PM2.5 concentrations from prescribed fire smoke.

Wildfire studies focused on assessing air quality impacts to communities that were nearby fires and urban centers that were far from wildfires. However, the prescribed fire studies used air monitoring methods that focused on characterizing exposures and emissions directly from, and next to, the burns.

This review highlights a need for a better understanding of wildfire smoke impact over the landscape. It is essential for properly assessing population exposure to smoke from different fire types.

Conclusions

Destructive wildfires have higher rates of biomass consumption and have greater potential to expose more people to smoke than prescribed fires. Naturally ignited fires that are allowed to self-regulate can provide the best scenario for ecosystem health and long-term air quality. Generally, prescribed fire smoke is much more localized, and the smoke plumes tend to stay within the canopy, which absorbs some of the pollutants, reducing smoke exposure. Land managers want to utilize prescribed fire as a land management tool to restore fire-adapted landscapes. Thus, additional work is needed to understand the differences in exposures and public health impacts of smoke of prescribedfire compared to wildfire. One way to do this would be for managers to collaborate with air quality departments (internal to agency or external) to monitor PM2.5concentrations in communities near a prescribed fire.

Consistent monitoring strategies for all wildland fires, whether prescribed or naturally occurring, are needed to allow the most robust comparative analysis. Currently, prescribed fire monitoring is often focused on capturing the area of highest impact or characterizing fire emissions, while wildfire monitoring often relies on urban monitors supplemented by temporary monitoring of communities of concern. A better understanding of smoke impact over the landscape and related impacts is essential for properly assessing population exposure to smoke from different fire types.

(end of excerpt)


In a webinar March 21 at 11 a.m. CDT, Ms. Navarro will describe information from a different smoke study. She will present on a recent Joint Fire Science Program study estimating the lifetime risk of lung cancer and cardiovascular disease from exposure to particulate matter (PM) from smoke. This analysis combined measured PM exposures on wildfires, estimated wildland firefighter breathing rates, and an exposure disease relationship for PM to estimate mortality of lung cancer and cardiovascular disease mortality from lifetime exposure to PM.

Breathing wildfire smoke can be similar to smoking up to two packs of cigarettes a day

Research shows its worse than we thought

bird dog airplane fire smoke wildfire
A Canadian bird dog airplane disappears into smoke over the Highland Fire in South Dakota, July 1, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

According to a researcher with the University of Alberta, breathing smoke from a wildfire can be equivalent to smoking up to two packs of cigarettes a day, depending on the density.

Accumulating over time, smoke particles trapped in the lungs can cause “all kinds of problems,” Mike Flannigan of the university’s Department of Renewable Resources told the Associated Press. “The more we learn about smoke and health, the more we are finding out it is bad for us, which isn’t a surprise but it’s worse than we thought.”

The AP reported that Mr. Flannagin was scheduled to make a presentation at the British Columbia Lung Association’s annual workshop on air quality and health on February 6, 2019.

A physician describes “smoke induced depression” in Oregon

Terwilliger Fire
Terwilliger Fire in western Oregon, August 24, 2018. Inciweb photo.

The Mail Tribune posted a video about how in recent years the occurrence of wildfire smoke seems to be more frequent in Oregon.

Some of the short term effects of smoke are well known, such as how it can affect people with pre-existing respiratory conditions, but not much research has been completed on the long term effects on residents or firefighters.

In the video, Doctor of Nursing Practice Matt Hogge introduced a condition called smoke induced depression.

“You see a lot of people coming in with mild mental health concerns”, he said, “that might not have those in their day to day life, but the anxiety of not being able to go outside and do the things that they are normally able to do really affects some people’s moods.”