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Researchers gather to identify wildfire smoke solutions

Rays of sunlights shine through a smoky forest.
Rays of sunlight shine through a smoky forest scene during the Cougar Peak Fire in Oregon.

News Brief

After another historic wildfire season, scientists from around the Mountain West are gathering virtually today to discuss the increasing public health threat of wildfire smoke.

This is the second year that Boise State University will host the Rocky Mountain Regional Wildfire Smoke Symposium. This year's symposium will focus on bringing together stakeholders to identify research gaps and workshop potential solutions.

"That's where I feel like this really has the potential to move the needle in a way that last year's conference wasn't designed to," said Luke Montrose, a BSU professor in public health and population science who organized the event.

Researchers have been sounding the alarm on the health impacts of wildfire smoke for many years now. More recently, they've urged the public to recognize how smoke can affect indoor air quality, especially with long-duration smoke events.

The science on the long-term health effects of wildfire smoke is still emerging, but University of Montana researchers have found lasting effects on lung function. In the short-term, smoke can cause breathing problems, reduced lung capacity, and heart failure.

Montrose said the prevalence and intensity of wildfire smoke over the last few seasons has heightened awareness. Plus, the pandemic has given folks a language to understand and talk about air quality in a way that wasn't possible before.

"If I were in a local establishment, a pub, talking with a friend, I would have had to back up two steps to explain these concepts. But now I can jump right into a conversation," he said.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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