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Wildland Fire Seminar Series -- Marshall Burke: Wildfire influence on recent US pollution trends

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Steady improvements in ambient air quality over multiple decades in the US have led to large public health benefits, and the policies that drove these improvements are considered landmarks in successful environmental policymaking. In recent years, however, we calculate that improvements in ambient concentrations of PM2.5, a pollutant known to have a broad array of negative health and economic impacts, have stagnated or begun to reverse in 42 US states. Using a combination of ground- and satellite-based datasets, we quantify the contribution of wildfire smoke to these recent trends. We find that since 2016, wildfire smoke has significantly slowed or reversed improvements in average annual PM2.5 concentrations in two-thirds of US states, eroding 20% of previous gains on average and over 50% in multiple western states. Smoke effects on trends in extreme daily PM2.5 concentrations are detectable by 2010, but effects are concentrated primarily in western states. Smoke-driven increases in PM2.5 concentrations are unregulated under current air quality legislation, and absent additional intervention, wildfire's contribution to regional and national air quality trends is likely to grow as the climate continues to warm.

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