Impact of smoke from prescribed burning: Is it a public health concern?

Anjali Haikerwal, Fabienne Reisen, Malcolm Ross Sim, Michael John Abramson, Carl Phillip Meyer, Fay H Johnston, Martina Neeltje Dennekamp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


Given the increase in wildfire intensity and frequency worldwide, prescribed burning is becoming a more common and widespread practice. Prescribed burning is a fire management tool used to reduce fuel loads for wildfire suppression purposes and occurs on an annual basis in many parts of the world. Smoke from prescribed burning can have a substantial impact on air quality and the environment. Prescribed burning is a significant source of fine particulate matter (PM2.5 aerodynamic diameter <2.5?m) and these particulates are found to be consistently elevated during smoke events. Due to their fine nature PM2.5 are particularly harmful to human health. Here we discuss the impact of prescribed burning on air quality particularly focussing on PM2.5. We have summarised available case studies from Australia including a recent study we conducted in regional Victoria, Australia during the prescribed burning season in 2013. The studies reported very high short-term (hourly) concentrations of PM2.5 during prescribed burning. Given the increase in PM2.5 concentrations during smoke events, there is a need to understand the influence of prescribed burning smoke exposure on human health. This is important especially since adverse health impacts have been observed during wildfire events when PM2.5 concentrations were similar to those observed during prescribed burning events. Robust research is required to quantify and determine health impacts from prescribed burning smoke exposure and derive evidence based interventions for managing the risk.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)592 - 598
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the Air and Waste Management Association
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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