Air pollution from wildfires is a complex mixture of gasses and particles that can harm human health, especially the respiratory and cardiovascular systems

Exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5), one of the main components of wildfire smoke, is associated with increased risk of premature death from various causes, such as heart attack, stroke, and respiratory failure

A new study by researchers at Harvard University found that air pollution from wildfires may increase the risk of premature death by up to 10 times, depending on the source and duration of exposure4

The study analyzed data from more than 65 million Medicare beneficiaries from 2000 to 2016 and found that exposure to PM2.5 from wildfires was associated with higher mortality rates, especially among older adults and those with chronic conditions

The study also found that the source of PM2.5 mattered: exposure to PM2.5 from agricultural fires, which are often intentionally set to clear land or manage crops, had a stronger effect on mortality than exposure to PM2.5 from forest fires, which are usually caused by natural or accidental factors

The study also found that the duration of exposure mattered: exposure to PM2.5 from wildfires for more than one day had a cumulative effect on mortality, meaning that the longer the exposure, the higher the risk of death

The researchers said their findings underscore the need for more effective wildfire management and mitigation strategies, as well as better monitoring and forecasting of wildfire smoke and its impacts on health