Wildfire Smoke Eroding Clean Air Progress

Smoke from wildfires across the United States and Canada has undone decades of improvement.

September 25, 2023

Wildfire smoke is significantly eroding previous efforts to make America’s air cleaner, National Public Radio (NPR) reports.

According to NPR, air quality had greatly improved over the last two decades, with pollution levels of tiny, health-damaging particles known as PM2.5 decreasing by about 40% since 2000. This reduction is attributed to the Clean Air Act, which was initially established in 1970, with major further revisions in 1977 and 1990.

However, according to a recent study published by science and technology journal Nature, wildfire smoke has reduced by about 25% those air quality improvements.

“We’ve seen really remarkable improvements in air quality,” Marissa Childs, an author of the study and Harvard University Center for the Environment researcher, told NPR. “But wildfire smoke is undoing that progress in many states.”

According to the study, pollution from wildfire smoke in Western states—such as California, Washington, and Oregon—has eroded almost 50% of the air quality gains that had been made since 2020.

NPR reports that, in 41 states, air quality between 2000 and the 2010s had been improving. But between 2020 and 2022, wildfire smoke was cited as the primary cause of bad air in four Western states and a major contributor in 17 others.

Bad outdoor air becomes a problem for facilities is when it becomes makes its way inside buildings and reduces indoor air quality (IAQ). It also can be a concern when facility employees need to work outside. To learn more about keeping bad air from getting inside, see Keeping Indoor Air Good When Outdoor Air Is Bad. To find out how to keep outside workers safer from the effects of poor air quality, check out Canadian Wildfire Smoke Highlights Need to Protect Outdoor Workers.

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