LA Times: On fire, soot, death and disinformation

An LA Times op-ed by statistician David Fairley and myself …

For nearly two weeks last November, smoke from the Camp fire drained 150 miles down the Central Valley and out toward the sea, engulfing Sacramento and the whole Bay Area. San Francisco looked — and breathed — like New Delhi, the world’s most polluted city. Miles away in the mountain town of Paradise, the fast-moving conflagration killed 85 people — making the Camp fire the deadliest wildfire in state history. But pollution research suggests that once heart attacks and respiratory-related deaths are factored in, its soot was even more deadly than its flames. Based on earlier pollution studies, we project that soot from the Camp fire caused about 100 premature deaths just in the San Francisco Bay Area and hundreds more hospitalizations and emergency room visits than normal.

Health records provided by California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment affirm our projection that soot is wildfires’ most deadly element. They also provide a timely rebuttal to Louis Anthony “Tony” Cox Jr., a skeptic on the health impacts of fine soot (ie PM2.5) appointed by the Trump administration to chair EPA’s Clean Air Science Advisory Committee.

Cox is telling EPA’s administrator that the agency should not regulate soot without a scientific smoking gun: studies showing that reducing soot saves lives. Well check this: Elevated daily mortality in the San Francisco Bay Area dropped immediately after soot from deadly 2017 fires in Napa and Sonoma dissipated.

Read the full Op-Ed at the