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Scientists examine how wildfire smoke affects people, the environment

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Researchers studying air quality in the wildfire smoke

Aircraft fly in a running fire through the smoke to analyze the air; Alicia Acuna reports on the data acquisition effort.

The smoke from the forest fires raging in the West, reaching as far as the East Coast, according to the National Weather Service.

A team of researchers from five universities and a handful of federal government-funded bodies are those with a specially equipped aircraft through the plumes to the most comprehensive anaylsis of wildfire smoke ever.

The smoke from the western fires is making it all the way to the East Coast and beyond (at least in the air, usually over a kilometer above the surface). Here is the vertically integrated smoke (HRRR model from last night). Another card showed a lot of smoke in the vicinity of the surface, even in New England. pic.twitter.com/0Jl6WDAFjg

— NWS San Diego (@NWSSanDiego) August 8, 2018

“We take this plane behind me close as we can in burn as the security permitting,” said lead researcher and Assistant Professor Emily Fischer, Colorado State University. CSU is one of the institutions participating in the in-depth study.

“We are especially looking for the smoke in the first day that it is in the atmosphere, because there is a lot of interesting chemistry that will ultimately determine the quality of the air and the impact on the climate of that smoke,” Fischer said.

The C-130 aircraft flying from Boise, Idaho, because the city in the vicinity of multiple fires. The aircraft instruments draws the air in and the generation of real-time information about the composition of the smoke. The samples are also recorded for later analysis in the lab.

“What is different about this field campaign is the only comprehensive set of instruments in the airplane,” Fischer explained. “What we do is repeatedly sampling smoke under so many environmental conditions and fire types in as much as we can.”

The information is needed, especially from the west, where a smoky haze has covered parts of several states throughout the summer. In Sacramento, a person that a complaint has TV station KOVR that feels, “A bit like allergies, my eyes are irritated, I have a feeling that it is harder to breathe, all my senses just kind of feel affected.”

Sutter Health emergency room doctor Adam Dougherty told the station, “It is an exposure to toxic substances, it is just like second hand smoke anywhere. I’ve definitely seen more pediatric airway problems with things that you normally see in January in the middle of flu season.”

Dr. Anthony Gerber at National Jewish Health in Denver said, there is simply not enough known about what is there in a running fire through the smoke to make accurate predictions about how it will affect everyone.

“The chemistry is complicated,” says Gerber. “What’s burning, is not the same. I mean, as not all forests are the same. How much of the soil that is a part of the particle cloud is not the same. If it burns structures, it is not the same, and as it moves and mixes with other pollutants, it can really change.”

The researchers say while they can fly in the smoke of an active fire, they are not there to fight, and take precautions to stay out of the way of firefighting aircraft and crews.

The members of the team said the full results are not expected for another year, but within the next three months, they could have some unique insight.

Alicia Acuna joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 1997 and currently serves as a general assignment reporter based in the network’s Denver bureau.

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