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.

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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.