Harms caused by prolonged exposure to wildfire smoke continue to haunt residents of a small Rocky Mountain town inundated by severe smoke three years ago, the AP reports.
The prolonged impacts, which are only starting to be fully understood, augur danger for the 78 million people in the West now confronting unprecedented climate-fueled wildfires. The town, Seeley Lake, Montana, was overcome with wildfire smoke for 49 days in 2017 and though the town was never at risk of burning, the smoke funneled by the mountains was so severe county officials issued evacuation orders due to the smoke.
“It’s like lead; there’s no safe level, but still we have a safety measure for what’s allowable,” Lu Hu, an atmospheric chemist with the University of Montana, said. “Some things kill you fast and some things kill you slowly.”
Seeley Lake residents’ lung capacity fell in the first two years after the smoke cleared, but immunologists have been unable to return to continue their research due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Climate change, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, is increasing the size, frequency, and intensity of wildfires.