Living in wildfire-prone areas increases the risk of brain tumors and lung cancer

Living in wildfire-prone areas increases the risk of brain tumors and lung cancer

A new study published in the journal shows that exposure to suffocating air pollution from frequent wildfires can put people at risk of developing brain tumors and lung cancer. The Lancet Planetary Health. As the climate crisis rapidly worsens, frequent wildfires can become more intense and may last longer.

The researchers analyzed that wildfires release pollutants into the air that end up in the water and soil, also known as “human carcinogens”. This includes polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, benzene, formaldehyde, phenols, and heavy metals. The researchers note that the problem is that wildfires in North America tend to occur in the same areas each year. This puts nearby communities in close contact with the carcinogenic pollutants of wildfires for prolonged periods. Particular pollutants such as heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons leach into soil and water.

In the Lancet study, researchers looked at the long-term effects of wildfire pollutants on populations who were chronically exposed. The team included participants from the Canadian Census Health and Environment group that evaluated cancer outcomes and 3-6 million deaths from 1996 to 2015. Residential ZIP codes for participants were available in the data, thanks to tax records. This enabled researchers to identify wildfire exposures according to people’s postal codes.

They then excluded people under the age of 25, those who reside in urban areas of more than 1.5 million, and people who had recently immigrated to Canada. The analyzes finally included more than two million people who were followed for an average of 20 years. Of that, there were about 43,000 cases of lung cancer and 3,700 cases of brain tumors.

Based on this, the researchers observed that people who lived within 50 kilometers of wildfires from the past decade reported a 10% and 4.9% higher incidence of brain tumors and lung cancer, respectively, than those who did not live near fire-exposed bushfires. Regions.

“Environmental concentrations of pollutants released by wildfires depend on a range of different factors – including type of vegetation and fire characteristics,” the researchers wrote. “Because other external factors such as wind patterns have an important role in determining where pollutants and sedimentation move, a larger area burned may not translate directly to higher risks.”

The researchers noted that other than the high levels of air pollution during wildfires, these extreme weather events can also pollute water and soil. “Many heavy metals trapped in soil and vegetation become more mobile and bioavailable in the wake of wildfires due to increased soil erosion and ash dispersal,” the researchers added.

This makes it possible for heavy metals to be deposited in nearby water bodies as well as to contaminate watersheds. Heavy metals are notorious for their accumulation in fish and other marine animals that are regularly consumed by humans.

“In addition, violations of exposure limits for nitrate, disinfection by-products, and arsenic have been observed in surface and groundwater in bushfire-affected areas,” the researchers cautioned.

For example, in California, drinking water was heavily contaminated with benzene and VOCs in the wake of several wildfires. The researchers pointed out that this is partly due to the melting of plastic water pipes.

2022-05-13 13:30:29

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