Spiraling healthcare costs of wildfire smoke in California


ISLAMABAD, October 22 (Online): According to new research the annual cost of smoke-related hospitalizations in the state may have quadrupled between 2012 and 2018, the costs of this year’s wildfires are likely to be even higher.
According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, since the start of 2020, there have been more than 8,500 wildfires across the state, incinerating more than 4.1 million acres of land.
At the time of writing, 6 of the 20 largest wildfires in the state’s history have occurred in 2020, including the largest on record, known as the August Complex, which has been burning since the middle of August.
Wildfires release large amounts of particulate matter (PM) and toxic gases, such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides.
Smoke particles that are 2.5 microns or smaller in size, known as PM2.5, are carried long distances by the wind. Their small size means that they are breathed deep into the lungs, where they have a wide range of effects on human health.
In addition to the severe harms to health and well-being, there are also financial costs.
Daniel Cullen, who recently gained his Ph.D. in health economics from the University of California Santa Barbara, has estimated the annual healthcare costs of wildfires in the state between 2012 and 2018 in terms of hospitalizations for respiratory and circulatory illnesses.
As part of research for his doctoral thesis, he calculated that the cost may have increased as much as fourfold over this period, from around $88 million in 2012 to $348 million in 2018.
This year is likely to be the worst on record, says Cullen, but given how extraordinary the 2020 wildfire season has been thus far, it is difficult to predict exactly how bad it will be. “When a big county like San Francisco is covered in smoke for 2 months, it is hard to say what is going to be the effect,” he says.
Cullen believes the costs of smoke exposure will continue to rise in coming decades as climate change increases the size, frequency, and intensity of wildfires.