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Forest fire in Canada: This July, there was a strong fire in the Donnie Creek region, among other places

Photo: Noah Berger / dpa

Every year, fires not only burn several hectares of forests and destroy landscapes and villages, they also threaten people's health. To what extent – this is now indicated for the first time by a study published in the journal "Nature".

According to the study, more than two billion people are exposed to potentially harmful environmental pollution caused by forest fires for at least one day every year. A value that, as the researchers write, has risen by 6.8 percent over the past ten years. In low-income countries, the burden was about four times higher than in high-income countries, according to a statement on the study. PM2.5 pollution was particularly high in Central Africa, Southeast Asia, South America and Siberia. PM2.5 is the term used to describe fine dust particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers (thousandths of a millimeter).

Data important for preventive measures

For the study, the team led by Yuming Guo and Shanshan Li from Monash University estimated the global daily air pollution from fires from 2000 to 2019 using computer models. For example, they used values from ground-based monitoring stations and weather data.

According to Guo, data on air pollution caused by wildfires is scarce but important. They are crucial "for monitoring and managing health impacts, implementing targeted prevention and intervention measures, and strengthening the case for climate change mitigation," Guo said, according to a statement.

At the global level, there has been no comprehensive data so far, the researchers criticize. They now want to close this gap for the first time, they write. Experts assume that forest fires will occur more frequently as global warming progresses.

In any case, particulate matter pollution is high worldwide: The maximum daily value recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) for particles of size PM2.5 was recently exceeded on a global average of 70 percent of all days, as a research team reported in the journal "The Lancet Planetary Health".

Long-term particulate matter pollution, however, can trigger cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer, for example. Also, according to the WHO and other experts, a number of premature deaths every year are due to the consequences of air pollution.