Reduce Disaster Costs by Better Tracking Health Impacts of Wildfire Smoke

Authors: Teresa Feo, Mary Prunicki, Brie Lindsay, Sarah Brady and Amber Mace


Smoke from wildfire disasters kills many more people than direct exposure to wildfire flames, and impacts many more communities than the communities located directly in wildfire perimeters. Direct exposure to the 2018 California wildfires caused 104 deaths statewide, but smoke from those fires were responsible for over 3,500 more. The United States currently lacks a systematic way to track health impacts (and associated costs) of wildfire smoke. This critical knowledge gap inhibits our nation’s ability to effectively recover from, respond to, and prevent future wildfire disasters.

The Biden-Harris Administration should address this gap by establishing a national public record of wildfire-smoke health impacts: a resource that would enable better accounting of wildfire costs and would support evaluation of the cost-effectiveness of efforts to prevent and mitigate catastrophic wildfires. Specifically, the Biden-Harris Administration should take the following actions to improve understanding of wildfire-smoke health impacts, better guide investments into wildfire management, and ultimately reduce the costs of wildfire disasters:

(1) Systematically track mortality and morbidity due to smoke from wildfire disasters.

(2) Fund research to better understand the scale of wildfire-smoke health impacts, and to develop cost-effective approaches for reducing those impacts.

(3) Ensure that approaches to respond to, recover from, and prevent wildfire disasters include goals to equitably reduce the wildfire-smoke health impacts.

Download PDF

About the Authors

Teresa Feo is a Senior Science Officer with the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST), where she contributes to CCST’s science services, including peer-reviewed reports and expert briefings. Dr. Feo was previously a CCST Science and Technology Policy Fellow in the California Senate Office of Research, where she worked on a range of policy topics including natural resources, environmental quality, and health. She was also a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum. Dr. Feo received her Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Yale University and her B.A. in Integrative Biology from UC Berkeley.

Mary Prunicki is Director of Air Pollution and Health Research at the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy & Asthma Research at Stanford University. Dr. Prunicki’s research investigates the impact of environmental exposures on the immune system. Her studies focus on Fresno, CA, a city that is always in the top four in the nation for ozone and particle pollution and is also exposed to wildfire smoke. Dr. Prunicki is especially passionate about helping at-risk populationswho disproportionately share the burden of air pollution exposure. Prunicki received her Ph.D. from Northwestern University and her M.D. from Southern Illinois University.

Brie Lindsey is Director of Science Services for CCST, where she manages projects requested by decision makers and supports outreach efforts that connect CCST’s network of experts, state policymakers, and other partners. Prior to joining CCST, Dr. Lindsey served in the Senate Office of Research as a CCST Science and Technology Policy Fellow. There, she provided research and analysis on a broad range of policy topics including oil and gas, crude transport by rail, and genetically modified salmon. Dr. Lindsey received her Ph.D in Biological Oceanography from Oregon State University and a B.A. in Environmental Sciences from UC Berkeley.

Sarah Brady is the Deputy Director of CCST, where she leads outreach efforts to connect CCST’s network of experts with state policymakers. Prior to joining CCST, Dr. Brady served as Legislative Director in California State Assemblymember Susan Bonilla’s office, where she was hired after her placement as a CCST Science and Technology Policy Fellow in 2014. Dr. Brady earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry at the University of Oregon, and bachelor’s degrees in Chemistry and French from North Central College. She was also a GK-12 Fellow and an NSF-IGERT Fellow, in which capacity she worked at Hong Kong Baptist University.

Amber Mace is the Executive Director of CCST, where she devotes her time to increasing the impact and value of science-informed policy. Prior to joining CCST in 2013, Dr. Mace served as Associate Director of the UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment and the Economy. She was appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger to serve as the Executive Director of the California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) and Assistant Secretary for coastal matters at the California Natural Resources Agency. Dr. Mace earned a B.A. in geography from UC Berkeley, a Ph.D. in ecology from UC Davis, and an M.B.A. from Wharton.