Studies Find Wildfire Dangers Don’t End After the Blaze is Out
We haven’t even entered 2023’s wildfire season yet, but there’s already an additional danger to be aware of – scientists are finding contaminants from the smoke are also making their way into the water supply.
The chemicals – including benzene and other organics – were first discovered in 2017 after the Tubbs fire in northern California, then again after the Camp fire in 2018 to an even greater degree. These were both considered high-severity events, which researchers from the California State Water Resource Control Board believe is why these water supplies were contaminated.
Though there isn’t a consensus on how the chemicals are making their way to the water supply, a case in New Mexico after the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire saw toxic chemicals leaked into the Las Vegas, NM water supply when subsequent heavy rains pulled ash with it into the groundwater.
Research on the effects of contaminated water are in early stages, but studies on mice have shown that exposure to these chemicals can reduce serotonin levels immediately after exposure, and for more than 10 weeks after. This kind of exposure on firefighters and area residents could create serious psychiatric and neurodegenerative issues.
Only time and more study will provide more information on how to mitigate this possible widespread hazard – and the next wildfire season isn’t far away.