UC Davis toxicology students recommend research on the air we breathe when land burns

How do fire-suppression chemicals and pesticides affect wildfire smoke and the health of those who breathe it? UC Davis graduate students discovered that this question cannot be answered based on current scientific evidence and, in a review published in Current Topics in Toxicology, they recommend more studies on the compounds in wildfire smoke.

Closing this knowledge gap is particularly important in California, where lines are shrinking between high-population cities and neighborhoods and the farmlands and forests where pesticides and fire-suppression chemicals are used, according to the review authors. California also is where pesticide use and the length and frequency of wildfires — together with the amount of retardants used to stop them — are increasing.

“When forests and farmlands catch fire, the chemicals applied to them burn, too, and potentially travel much longer distances than where they were first used,” said review author Sarah Carratt, a pharmacology and toxicology graduate student at UC Davis.

“As areas at-risk for wildfires and where pesticides are applied overlap with areas where people live and breathe, it becomes increasingly important to characterize the content of wildfire smoke,” Carratt added.

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