Report: Wildfire Smoke Costs Oregon Billions in Healthcare, Shortens Lives

A study by the National Resources Defense Council projects that wildfires in Oregon could cost billions in health damages. The NRDC emphasizes the threat posed by smoke from wildfires “can travel miles downwind and harm millions more people.”  

The study examines the health effects of wildfire smoke in Oregon, focusing on the year 2012, during which “an estimated 963 wildland fires burned more than 1.2 million acres in Oregon… about 13 percent of the total national acreage that wildfires burned that year.”  

That year, smoke from wildfires is estimated to have caused 226 premature deaths, 1,986 emergency room visits and 92 hospital admissions for lung and heart ailments. The overall costs are placed at $2.1 billion, which “includes the costs of lost lives, medical care in emergency rooms and hospitals, prescribed medications, and lost wages.”   

These costs could worsen due to climate change, they say, as the size and incidence of wildfires in the Western US has “increased significantly” since the 1970s. Last year, firefighting costs in Oregon reached $514 million, a record high.  

The state’s proactive stance towards climate change is commended in the study. The Oregon Health Authority in particular is recognized for their work developing local climate and health adaptation plans, and participation in the CDC’s Climate-Ready Cities and States Initiative. They are also responsible for Oregon’s Environmental Health Tracking program, which provides valuable data “for understanding wildfire-related health problems like heart attacks, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).”  

“As we improve our understanding of the individual and societal toll of wildfires and other climate-sensitive health risks,” the study says, “it’s clearer than ever that ambitious actions to slow global climate change will save lives and dollars.”  

By Brandon Urey