Future respiratory hospital admissions from wildfire smoke under climate change in the Western US

Jia Coco Liu, Loretta J. Mickley, Melissa P. Sulprizio, Xu Yue, Roger Peng, Francesca Dominici, Michelle L. Bell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background. Wildfires are anticipated to be more frequent and intense under climate change. As a result, wildfires may emit more air pollutants that can harm health in communities in the future. The health impacts of wildfire smoke under climate change are largely unknown. Methods. We linked projections of future levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) specifically from wildfire smoke under the A1B climate change scenario using the GEOS-Chem model for 2046-2051, present-day estimates of hospital admission impacts from wildfire smoke, and future population projections to estimate the change in respiratory hospital admissions for persons ≥65 years by county (n = 561) from wildfire PM2.5 under climate change in the Western US. Results. The increase in intense wildfire smoke days from climate change would result in an estimated 178 (95% confidence interval: 6.2, 361) additional respiratory hospital admissions in the Western US, accounting for estimated future increase in the elderly population. Climate change is estimated to impose an additional 4990 high-pollution smoke days. Central Colorado, Washington and southern California are estimated to experience the highest percentage increase in respiratory admissions from wildfire smoke under climate change. Conclusion. Although the increase in number of respiratory admissions from wildfire smoke seems modest, these results provide important scientific evidence of an often-ignored aspect of wildfire impact, and information on their anticipated spatial distribution. Wildfires can cause serious social burdens such as property damage and suppression cost, but can also raise health problems. The results provide information that can be incorporated into development of environmental and health policies in response to climate change. Climate change adaptation policies could incorporate scientific evidence on health risks from natural disasters such as wildfires.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number124018
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 8 2016


  • air pollution
  • climate change
  • respiratory health
  • wildfires

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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