The smoky air days experienced by New York City due to Canadian wildfires in June might not have had an immediate detrimental impact on residents’ respiratory health as previously thought, according to recent research from NYU Grossman School of Medicine. The study’s findings reveal that hospital visits related to breathing issues during those days were not significantly worse than during periods of high pollen levels. The research, conducted over the first half of 2023, focused on the effects of PM2.5 particles, which can be deeply inhaled into the lungs.
Although asthma-related ER visits rose by 3% on average for every 10 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter during peak wildfire smoke in June, the numbers were comparable to the rise in visits during days with elevated pollen counts. For the smokiest day, 335 asthma-related emergency department visits were recorded, slightly surpassing the 302 visits on a high pollen day in April.
While the study didn’t associate any deaths with wildfire smoke exposure, researchers acknowledge the potential life-threatening nature of asthma. The long-term consequences of such exposure remain uncertain, emphasizing the need for further investigation.
Study co-author David Luglio stated, “The long-term consequences, if any, of exposure to wildfire smoke remain unknown, so we are not yet totally in the clear.”
Future research aims to compare the health effects of wildfire smoke exposure with those of particulate matter typically associated with fossil-fuel combustion. It’s noteworthy that wildfire smoke is primarily composed of organic matter, unlike the toxic metals found in fossil-fuel emissions that contribute to oxidative stress in the body.
The research discovered that wildfire smoke contained 64% more potassium and significantly lower levels of copper and sulfur compared to ambient air pollution. These differences suggest that while wildfire smoke can impact respiratory health, it might pose a different risk profile due to its unique composition.