Beyond Particulate Matter Mass: Heightened Levels of Lead and Other Pollutants Associated with Destructive Fire Events in California


As the climate warms, wildfire activity is increasing, posing a risk to human health. Studies have reported on particulate matter (PM) in wildfire smoke, yet the chemicals associated with PM have received considerably less attention. Here, we analyzed 13 years (2006-2018) of PM2.5 chemical composition data from monitors in California on smoke-impacted days. Select chemicals (e.g., aluminum and sulfate) were statistically elevated on smoke-impacted days in over half of the years studied. Other chemicals, mostly trace metals harmful to human health (e.g., copper and lead), were elevated during particular fires only. For instance, in 2018, lead was more than 40 times higher on smoke days on average at the Point Reyes monitoring station, due mostly to the Camp Fire, burning approximately 200 km away. There was an association between these metals and the combustion of anthropogenic material (e.g., the burning of houses and vehicles). Although still currently rare, these infrastructure fires are likely becoming more common and can mobilize trace metals in smoke far downwind, at levels generally unseen except in the most polluted areas of the country. We hope a better understanding of the chemicals in wildfire smoke will assist in the communication and reduction of public health risks.

Authors: Katie Boaggio, Stephen D LeDuc, R Byron Rice, Parker F Duffney, Kristen M Foley, Amara L Holder, Stephen McDow, Christopher P Weaver
; Full Source: Environmental science & technology 2022 Oct 3. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.2c02099.