EPA | A firefighter operates during a wildfire at the Aghios Charalambos area in Loutraki
Wildfires have always been a natural occurrence, but in recent years, they have grown increasingly frequent and intense due to climate change and human activities. These catastrophic events not only wreak havoc on forests, wildlife, and human settlements but also pose a significant threat to air quality. In this blog post, we delve into the alarming impact of wildfires on air quality, presenting compelling statistics that underscore the urgent need for comprehensive action to address this growing environmental concern.
According to data from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS), the number of wildfires in Europe has risen significantly in the last decade. Between 2010 and 2020, approximately 68,000 wildfires occurred annually in European countries, scorching an estimated 2.7 million hectares of land each year.
Wildfires, Air Pollution and the Impacts on Human Health
Wildfires emit copious amounts of particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), and other hazardous pollutants into the atmosphere. These pollutants can travel hundreds of miles, blanketing regions with a dense smoky haze. Between 2008 and 2017, the Mediterranean region accounted for over 45% of the total burnt area in Europe, with countries such as Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Greece facing recurring wildfire challenges.
The degradation of air quality due to wildfire smoke poses severe health risks. Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) from wildfires can penetrate deep into the respiratory system, leading to a range of health issues. The European Environment Agency (EEA) has warned that climate change will likely exacerbate the wildfire risk in the coming decades, further compromising air quality and public health.
Reuters | A wildfire burning from the Valmediano eolic park, on the second heatwave of the year, in Spain, July 19, 2022
A Worrying Future
The statistics on wildfires and their impact on air quality in Europe paint a troubling picture of the environmental and health challenges faced by the continent. As wildfires continue to escalate, European countries must collaborate on comprehensive strategies to prevent and mitigate their devastating effects. Implementing sustainable land management practices, enhancing early warning systems, and investing in climate change adaptation measures are crucial steps toward safeguarding air quality and creating a more resilient Europe.
Through collective efforts at local, national, and international levels, we can address the root causes of wildfires and their impact on air quality, protecting both our environment and the well-being of present and future generations in Europe and beyond. The time for action is now, and together, we can build a safer and healthier future. With the help of Airscan, you can track and monitor air quality as well as the impact these extreme events have on it. Our Outdoor Air Quality Monitor empowers communities, businesses, and governments with real-time data on air quality, enabling informed decision-making and timely responses.