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Study Shows Californian Wildfires May Exacerbate Health Disparities and Environmental Justice Concerns

December 2, 2022
Smoke billowing from a forest wildfire on top of a hill

Dr. Michele Barbato, faculty director of CITRIS Climate and co-director of the UC Davis Climate Adaptation Research Center, recently co-published a paper titled “Environmental justice analysis of wildfire-related PM2.5 exposure using low-cost sensors in California” in the Science of The Total Environment. The research examined the impact of an increasing number of wildfires on air quality for California residents through the lens of environmental justice, assessing PM2.5 concentrations in the San Francisco Bay area and Los Angeles County area during the record-setting 2020 wildfire season in relation to environmental, health, and demographic data.

Some key takeaways:

  1. Wildfires may worsen existing health disparities and environmental justice concerns about the burden of pollution in disadvantaged communities, as higher PM2.5 concentrations were correlated with higher poverty, more cardiovascular emergency department visits, and more housing inequities.
  2. Indoor PM2.5 increases mimic outdoor patterns, and sometimes PM2.5 levels are higher indoor than outdoor.
  3. The paper suggests a need to improve monitoring and adaptive capacity among vulnerable populations, as even the distribution of low-cost sensors shows significant disparities between communities.

Read the full paper

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