Up in Smoke

Heart failure linked to Peat wildfire smoke

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) There's no question that the wildfire sweeping across drought-stricken areas of the United States can be devastating. New research suggests that more than your property is at risk.

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study shows that wildfire smoke fueled by peat, decayed vegetable matter found in swampy areas, may contribute to an increased risk of heart failure.

"Evacuate if wildfires are burning near your home."

The EPA conducted the study during a 2008 North Carolina wildfire that burned for several weeks, discovering that smoke from peat can lead to an increase in emergency rooms respiratory and cardiovascular visits.

The study was the first to look at such affects. It was discovered that during a three day period with dense smoke and the five days that followed there was a 37 percent increase in emergency room visits for people with symptoms of heart failure.

In addition, there was an increase in emergency department visits for problems relating to asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pneumonia, and bronchitis, which had been noted in previous studies related to wildfires.

Investigators utilized satellite imagery to identify impacted counties. They also obtained the numbers of emergency room visits for cardiac and respiratory problems in exposed and nearby unexposed counties to show the health impact the wildfire.

The study only examined wildfires that burned peat, which tends to burn more slowly and be difficult to extinguish.

The findings could aid state and county officials in figuring out ways to combat the health risks of such wildfires. The study was published  in Environmental Health Perspectives.

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Review Date: 
June 28, 2011
Last Updated:
July 3, 2011