Air Pollution – Cause and Effect – Impact of the Wildfires of 2011

The Earth Is Everyone’s Home

The earth is everybody’s home. From China to the US and South Africa to Norway, we all share our planet. Nobody likes living in an uncomfortable and dirty home when they can do something about it and yet we all seem to ignore the increasing pollution that is stacking up around our ears. We pollute our own water we drink, the soil that grows our food and even and our own air we breathe. Why do we tolerate such a dirty ‘home’?

One of the most prevalent forms of pollution on our planet is air pollution. Air pollution is termed ‘the introduction of any particular matter to the air that causes harm or discomfort to human beings and other living organisms to have breathing problems’. These materials also cause damage to the natural environment building layers of matter in the atmosphere and thus interfering with the natural environment. But what’s it matter to us, right?

Environmental Impact of the Wildfires of 2011

California Wildfire of 2011

Image: Active Fire Maps, US Forestry Service Website

Have you seen the news the past month or so about all of the wildfires burning all over the country? Thousands of people are being displaced and millions of acres of land are being scorched. The untold story, as of yet, is the impact those fires are having on the environment. Just take a look at the satellite image from any of the fires burning and you can SEE the impact the smoke is having on air quality for miles near many of these fires. According to studies, one acre of trees can remove the pollution produced by 10 cars running for 15 hours. Not only does a wildfire remove the ability of that acre of land to reduce our air pollution but it actually contributes to it, effectively adding multiple car’s worth of pollution to the air every single day.

Don’t be fooled – just because wildfires burn outside doesn’t mean your own air quality isn’t impacted. Air pollution includes indoor air pollution and urban air quality, both of which are impacted by air quality in every region. The earth has the natural ability to absorb and purify minor quantities of pollutants but man has introduced so many external pollution sources the chances of the earth’s natural cleansing system keeping up is a long shot at best if something isn’t done. Both intentional and accidental destruction and burning of forests has caused a dramatic spike in CO2 in the atmosphere. Trees play an important role in producing oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide. The only way to combat this is to re-plant decimated forests plagued by natural and man-made fire disasters.

Air Pollution’s Toll On Our Health

Air pollution impacts everyone – especially the sick. Air pollution, in its current high concentrations, is a major cause of many serious health problems.  Ozone and smog, caused by burning or carbon from fossil fuels or forest and wildfires, can cause short-term health issues such as irritation to skin and eyes and long term effects on the respiratory system. Long term exposure to air pollution may lead to more serious problems such as impaired lung function, inflammation of the lung lining and higher rates of pulmonary diseases.

Uncontrolled wildfires can be nearly unstoppable and consume everything in their path. It’s not only just trees and other plant life that burns but toxic chemicals as well – especially when wildfires encroach on more urban areas. Wildfires produce solid and liquid particles such as ash, metals, soot, and gas or diesel smoke among others things the fire consumes. These particles are capable of triggering strokes, heart attacks, and irregular heart rates in people that may already be prone to upper repertory illness. Premature births and lung cancer have also been linked to certain types of air pollution.

Earth Day Should Be Every Day

Once the damage toll as been assessed and the rebuilding begins, we need to start thinking more about and actively correcting the effects these wildfires have on or environment as well as our homes, businesses and communities. Planting trees and restoring our forests shouldn’t just be an Arbor Day or Earth Day occurrence; it should be every day. Click the links below for ways that you can make an impact – TODAY.

Plant a Billion

Plant a Tree USA

Dell’s Plant a Tree Program

US Forestry Plant a Tree Program

American Forests (36M Trees Planted To Date)

2 Responses to “Air Pollution – Cause and Effect – Impact of the Wildfires of 2011”

  1. NikkiB says:

    I appreciate everything written here, especially concerning air pollution, and the danger of large-scale, out-of-control fires that consume urban and suburban areas – as there are more likely chemicals, etc, that are burned, thus released into the atmosphere.

    However. Forest fires have *always* played a significant and important role in forest and other (e.g. prairie) ecosystems the world over. They are critical for “cleaning up” old forests and for re-generating new growth. Some trees and other plants require fire to germinate, Therefore, we should not be looking at *all* fire as the enemy, and understanding that, in natural ecosystems, fires are often an integral part of those system cycles.

    That said, there are vast differences between systems of the past, that evolved to be fire-friendly, and what we have today. One, more natural and frequent fires burn slower and “cooler” – removing debris and understory, germinating new plants, but not actually hot enough to kill large trees. Having these fires on a regular basis keeps areas from building up a LOT of debris that could, eventually be fodder for a bigger, hotter, and faster moving fire. Two, if you think about, say, North America in the past, the continent was covered in great forests – that are now heavily fragmented by development. A fire that is devastating today may not have been as bad, relative to the remaining forest in the past.

    It’s important that we recognize fire as a management tool for fire-friendly environments, and not something to consistently repress. If we learn to allow fire in controlled cycles, we can actually create healthier ecosystems that are less likely to burn out of control (e.g. you don’t allow all that debris to build up – because when it goes, it goes fast and furious). Doing so can be better for air quality, too!

    Sorry – may have gotten a bit off topic. I’ve worked in fire-friendly systems, and on fire as a management tool, so I kinda got going there… :D

  2. I have had a love affair with plants and trees all of my life. Fires or no fires, trees are to be  loved and preserved.

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