Scientists at the Oregon Institute of Technology have been awarded a $1 million grant from the federal government that could lead to research that improves health outcomes in southern Oregon due to wildfire smoke.
Since 2019, a team of Oregon Tech scientists has been studying the capacity of hospitals in the Rogue Valley to treat patients who come in with respiratory problems during wildfires when air quality drops.
“If it’s in what we call ‘purple,’ which is really bad air quality, the likelihood that a hospital will exceed their capacity goes up to about 70 percent,” Kyle Chapman, an associate professor of sociology and population health. at the Oregon Institute of Technology, told Oregon Public Broadcasting.
Chapman and his colleagues will now expand their focus to include admissions due to heart disease experienced during wildfires, in addition to respiratory illnesses such as asthma, which wildfire smoke can exacerbate.
“We have a feeling that some of these other conditions related to heart disease, which are much more prevalent than chronic respiratory disease, are also a big player here,” he said.
Chapman said seeing how hospital admissions change during wildfires could lead to changes in staffing levels, similar to what is already done in the summer, when emergency room visits increase.
The federal grant also will allow scientists to install new monitors outside and inside homes in Klamath Falls, Ore., that can detect chemicals in wildfire smoke, a new area of study that has become increasingly important as wildfires more intense and spread. across the woods to threaten homes and businesses.
“Instead of just looking at the mass measurement of the amount of smoke in the air … what it’s made of gives us an indication of where it came from, what kinds of things were burned in the fire that created the smoke and, potentially, how dangerous the smoke is to human health,” said Adelaide Clark, a former associate professor of chemistry at the Oregon Institute of Technology who is now on the faculty at Providence College in Providence, RI.
Last year, Klamath Falls had 38 days when air quality was found to be unhealthy for all population groups, marking a record set in 2018 for the city, according to a newly released report on wildfire smoke trends. from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. .