Wildfire air pollution and daily mortality in a large urban area

Environ Res. 2006 Sep;102(1):29-35. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2006.03.008. Epub 2006 May 22.


Unusual air pollution episodes, such as when smoke from wildfires covers a large urban area, can be used to attempt to detect associations between short-term increases in particulate matter (PM) concentrations and subsequent mortality without relying on the sophisticated statistical models that are typically required in the absence of such episodes. The objective of this study was to explore whether acute increases in PM concentrations from wildfire smoke cause acute increases in daily mortality. The temporal patterns of daily nonaccidental deaths and daily cardiorespiratory deaths for June of 2002 in the Denver metropolitan area were examined and compared to those in two nearby counties in Colorado that were not affected by the wildfire smoke and to daily deaths in Denver in June of 2001. Abrupt increases in PM concentrations in Denver occurred on 2 days in June of 2002 as a result of wildfire smoke drifting over the Denver area. Small peaks in mortality corresponded to both of the PM peaks, but the first mortality peak also corresponded to a peak of mortality in the control counties, and cardiorespiratory deaths began to increase on the day before the second peak. Further, there was no detectable increase in cardiorespiratory deaths in the hours immediately following the PM peaks. Although the findings from this study do not rule out the possibility of small increases in mortality due to abrupt and dramatic increases in PM concentrations from wildfire smoke, in a population of over 2 million people no perceptible increases in daily mortality could be attributed to such events.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / metabolism
  • Air Pollutants / poisoning*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / mortality*
  • Colorado / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Fires*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / mortality*
  • Smoke / adverse effects*
  • Trees
  • Urban Population


  • Air Pollutants
  • Smoke