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Health and Environmental Effects Research

NHEERL Scientists Lead Study Linking Exposure to N.C. Wildfire and Increased Emergency Room Visits for Respiratory and Cardiac Illnesses

Ana Rappold, Bob Devlin, Martha Carraway, Lucas Neas, and Wayne Cascio, NHEERL Environmental Public Health Division (EPHD) scientists, led a collaborative study, which included researchers from NERL, OAR, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, Pitt County Memorial Hospital, and the N.C. Division of Public Health, that examined potential health effects associated with exposure to a large wildfire that burned in eastern North Carolina during the summer of 2008. The study linked satellite imagery of the smoke plumes with daily visits to emergency departments in eastern North Carolina for respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses and cardiopulmonary symptoms. Exposed counties had significant increases in emergency department visits for asthma and chronic obstructive lung disease, pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, cardiopulmonary symptoms, and heart failure when compared with nearby counties that were not impacted by the wildfire. Given the increased incidence of wildfires, including one that has consumed 45,000 acres in eastern North Carolina this summer, it is hoped that these findings will provide relevant and important information for State and county public health officials as they consider strategies to mitigate the adverse health effects of wildfire smoke in the general public and, especially, in vulnerable populations. The study was just published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

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