Estimated Mortality and Morbidity Attributable to Smoke Plumes in the United States: Not Just a Western US Problem

Katelyn O’Dell, Kelsey Bilsback, Bonne Ford, Sheena E. Martenies, Sheryl Magzamen, Emily V. Fischer, Jeffrey R. Pierce

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As anthropogenic emissions continue to decline and emissions from landscape (wild, prescribed, and agricultural) fires increase across the coming century, the relative importance of landscape-fire smoke on air quality and health in the United States (US) will increase. Landscape fires are a large source of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), which has known negative impacts on human health. The seasonal and spatial distribution, particle composition, and co-emitted species in landscape-fire emissions are different from anthropogenic sources of PM2.5. The implications of landscape-fire emissions on the sub-national temporal and spatial distribution of health events and the relative health importance of specific pollutants within smoke are not well understood. We use a health impact assessment with observation-based smoke PM2.5 to determine the sub-national distribution of mortality and the sub-national and sub-annual distribution of asthma morbidity attributable to US smoke PM2.5 from 2006 to 2018. We estimate disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) for PM2.5 and 18 gas-phase hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) in smoke. Although the majority of large landscape fires occur in the western US, we find the majority of mortality (74%) and asthma morbidity (on average 75% across 2006–2018) attributable to smoke PM2.5 occurs outside the West, due to higher population density in the East. Across the US, smoke-attributable asthma morbidity predominantly occurs in spring and summer. The number of DALYs associated with smoke PM2.5 is approximately three orders of magnitude higher than DALYs associated with gas-phase smoke HAPs. Our results indicate awareness and mitigation of landscape-fire smoke exposure is important across the US.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2021GH000457
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • PM
  • air quality
  • hazardous air pollutants
  • health impact assessment
  • wildfire smoke

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Epidemiology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


Dive into the research topics of 'Estimated Mortality and Morbidity Attributable to Smoke Plumes in the United States: Not Just a Western US Problem'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this