Wildfires in the United States — Who is Liable for the Health Impact?
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), wildfires greatly affect the quality of our air, emitting significant amounts of volatile and semi-volatile organic and nitrogen oxides into the air. “Direct emission of toxic pollutants can affect first responders and local residents. In addition, the formation of other pollutants as the air is transported can lead to harmful exposures for populations in regions far away from the wildfires.”
Here in Clark County, the Department of Environment and Sustainability has recently issued air quality advisories due to elevated smoke levels and ozone from the northern California wildfires.
Because we now understand that these elevated levels can lead to serious health problems, particularly in people with respiratory and cardiac issues, the question begs whether there will be any liability for health issues stemming from the air quality from these wildfires or air pollution in general.
What We Now Know About Air Quality and Wildfires
The California Department of Industrial Relations reports that smoke from wildfires contains many chemicals, gases, and fine particulate matter that, when breathed in, can cause harm to lung function, worsening things such as asthma and other lung and heart conditions.
Smoke from a large wildfire can account for approximately 25 percent of dangerous air pollution in the United States. National Geographic recently reported that smoke-filled air from recent wildfires that has been recently affecting the whole nation may be far more toxic than we formerly knew, citing research reported last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The Chemical and Microbe Components of Wildfire Smoke
Any smoke that comes from a wildfire will have a unique mixture of chemical components depending on the buildings, trees, or other items that have burned in the fire. Approximately 80 percent of that smoke is comprised of the particulate matter from that burned material.
Particulate matter can result in chronic respiratory diseases such as COPD, asthma, bronchiolitis, and lung cancer as well as other cardiovascular, central nervous system, and cutaneous diseases. These fine particles are able to penetrate not only human lungs but are also able to lodge elsewhere in the body, causing immune responses. Sustained immune reactions can affect all body systems, from the respiratory system to the heart, liver, and brain.
Last spring, scientists also discovered that traces of bacteria and fungi could travel in smoke. Wildfire smoke has already been linked to instances of Valley fever, a fungal infection. It is still unclear, however, how many other disease-causing microbes may be transmitted through wildfire smoke and how far they may potentially travel.
Air Quality and Legal Liability
Although right now there is no legal liability for air quality resulting from these wildfires and its effect on health, the more we find out about the toxicity of our air, this may change in the future. If you have questions about your health and who may be held liable for your costs or damages, it is important to get legal advice.
Contact LV Personal Injury Lawyers for a no-cost initial consultation.