Public health planning for wildfire smoke
Population level wildfire smoke exposure is complex. It is difficult to measure and prevent. Reducing the adverse physical and mental health effects related to smoke exposure requires insight into social, economic, political and health-related factors within communities. In an attempt to understand some of the challenges of planning for wildfire smoke events, this report outlines the findings from a series of 22 interviews with public health practitioners and collaborators with varying experience responding to such events. It includes a diversity of perspectives from four Canadian provinces, one territory, and two U.S. States.
In regions such as British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, Alberta, Oregon, and California repeated wildfire smoke events have brought about collaborative planning and knowledge sharing opportunities that have begun to build trust among various, sometimes non-traditional partners. Planning in these regions has included:
- assessments of community infrastructure that might be suitable for clean air spaces;
- modifications to healthcare facilities’ heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems;
- acquisition, distribution and deployment of residential and commercial air scrubbers;
- the development of innovative communication strategies; and
- early exploration of strategies to support community resilience.
The consensus among public health practitioners who participated in this project is that wildfires pose a significant threat to public health and safety and are expected to continue or worsen under climate change. Despite high levels of awareness and concern, planning for interventions that would reduce population level exposure to wildfire smoke is still in the very early stages of development in most jurisdictions and not well funded, if at all.
See below for the full report.