Lessons in Public Health Planning for Wildfire Smoke
The NCCEH Environmental Health Seminar Series provides an opportunity for learning and knowledge exchange on a variety of environmental health topics. The seminars can be attended in-person or online.
Presenter: Sally Maguet, Consultant, Context Evaluation Consulting
Population level wildfire smoke exposure is complex, and so reducing the adverse physical and mental health effects related to smoke exposure requires insight into social, economic, political and health-related factors within communities. This report outlines the findings from a series of 22 interviews with public health practitioners and collaborators from Canadian and American jurisdictions with varying experience responding to wildfire smoke events. These discussions revealed that 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.