When wildfires roar through a forest and bulldozers dig into the earth to stop advancing flames, they may be churning more into the air than just clouds of dust and smoke, scientists say.
Those dark, billowing plumes of smoke that rise on waves of heat during the day and sink into valleys as the night air cools may be transporting countless living microbes that can seep into our lungs or cling to our skin and clothing, according to research published recently in Science. In some cases, researchers fear that airborne pathogens could sicken firefighters or downwind residents.
“We were inspired to write this because we recognize that there are many trillions of microbes in smoke that haven’t really been incorporated in an understanding … of human health,” said Leda Kobziar, the University of Idaho’s wildland fire science director. “At this point, it’s really unknown. The diversity of microbes that we’ve found are really mind-bending.”
As this recent fire seasons suggests, the need to understand what’s in the wildfire smoke we can’t help but breathe and how it may affect us has never been more pronounced, but scientists say we are seriously behind the curve.
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