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Health Survey: Where There's Smoke, There's Confusion

Eight in 10 people in Idaho see wildfire smoke as a natural hazard, according to new research. (Neal Herbert/U.S. Interior Dept.)
Eight in 10 people in Idaho see wildfire smoke as a natural hazard, according to new research. (Neal Herbert/U.S. Interior Dept.)
November 11, 2019

BOISE, Idaho – Wildfires are a threat in the West, but their smoke is even more deadly, researchers say.

However, a new survey shows Idahoans don't necessarily see it that way.

Researchers at Boise State University surveyed Gem State residents and found 90% have experienced at least one symptom associated with smoke, such as itchy eyes, and 80% said it's a natural hazard.

Report co-author Moji Sadegh, an assistant professor of civil engineering at BSU, says this might lead one to believe people are planning for how to deal with smoke.

"But what we found is about 45% or so, they're not sure whether they're going to take future preventive actions to reduce the wildfire smoke impact,” he states. “So still, there is this education need that we need to work on."

The survey also found about 40% of people said they didn't receive air quality notifications during the 2017 wildfire season.

However, Sadegh notes Idahoans are interested in receiving text messages or alerts about smoke the day before it arrives, to help them plan accordingly.

Worldwide, about 340,000 people die each year from the health effects of landscape fire smoke.

Jen Pierce, another report co-author and an associate professor of geosciences at BSU, says the most dangerous effects aren't necessarily from smoke that can be seen.

"Smoke, and especially those really small particles from wildfires, are actually the size particles that really do damage to lungs, but those aren't necessarily what people can see and smell," she points out.

Wildfires are expected to increase due to climate change.

Pierce says there still is a perception in inland states that only coastal areas will be affected, mostly from rising sea levels. But she says smoke and wildfires are one way the changing climate is affecting Idaho.

"It's not something that's going to happen in the future,” she states. “It's something that's happening now.

“And so that is where, as communities, we need to understand how to respond to these threats and build resilience in our communities to both fire and smoke."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID