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Wildfires and Child Health

Faculty Associate Michel Boudreaux leads an R01 to measure impact of increasing particulant pollution on child health

Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the United States. By 2011, 25-40% of all small particulate matter air pollution in the US was attributed to wildfires, and the contribution of wildfires to air quality will likely increase as they proliferate and other anthropogenic sources decline. Wildfire-produced air pollutants are spread across thousands of miles by prevailing winds. Wildfires, and the air pollutants carried by their smoke plumes, have profound impacts on adult health.

Far less is known, however, about their impacts on infants, who are particularly sensitive to the adverse exposures associated with wildfire events. Air pollution, psychosocial stress, and community disruption in the prenatal period and in the first year of life could adversely impact birthweight, gestational age, hospital service use, and infant mortality. This proposed project will link high-resolution, state-of-the-art exposure measures, developed from satellite observations, ground monitors, and numeric modeling with natality, hospital discharge, and mortality records from 2003-2019. Natality and linked birth-death records cover a near census of births from every US county. Hospital discharge records, from 15 states, include all discharges from all payers, and have been individually linked to birth and death records.

The three specific aims are to: (1) Measure the extent and sociodemographic, geographic, and temporal patterns of prenatal and first year of life exposure to smoke-plumes, wildfire produced air pollutants, and local wildfire events; (2) Estimate the impact of total pregnancy and trimester specific wildfire exposure on health at birth, health service use, neonatal and infant mortality; and (3) Examine the moderating influence of socio-demographics and baseline air pollutant exposures. The impact of wildfire exposures on infant health will be estimated in a fixed effects regression framework that isolates the impact of exposure from confounders that predispose infants with different health risks to wildfire exposure.

Results from this study are expected to be the first national estimates of infant exposure to wildfires and smoke-plumes and their impacts on infant health outcomes. These findings will be critical for mitigation planning as climate change continues to accelerate wildfire growth in the coming decades.