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Spatial Heterogeneity of the Respiratory Health Impacts of Wildfire Smoke PM2.5 in California
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  • Vivian Do,
  • Chen Chen,
  • Tarik Benmarhnia,
  • Joan A. Casey
Vivian Do
Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health
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Chen Chen
University of California San Diego

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Tarik Benmarhnia
University of California, San Diego
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Joan A. Casey
University of Washington
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Wildfire smoke fine particles (PM2.5) are a growing public health threat as wildfire events become more common and intense under climate change, especially in the Western United States. Studies assessing the association between wildfire PM2.5 exposure and health typically summarize the effects over the study area. However, health responses to wildfire PM2.5 may vary spatially. We evaluated spatially-varying respiratory acute care utilization risks associated with short-term exposure to wildfire PM2.5 and explored community characteristics possibly driving spatial heterogeneity. Using ensemble-modelled daily wildfire PM2.5, we defined a wildfire smoke day to have wildfire-specific PM2.5 concentration ≥15 µg/m3. We included daily respiratory emergency department visits and unplanned hospitalizations in 1,396 California ZIP Code Tabulation Areas (ZCTAs) and 15 census-derived community characteristics. Employing a case-crossover design and conditional logistic regression, we observed increased odds of respiratory acute care utilization on wildfire smoke days at the state level (odds ratio [OR] = 1.06, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.05, 1.07). Across air basins, ORs ranged from 0.88 to 1.57, with the highest effect estimate in San Diego. A within-community matching design and spatial Bayesian hierarchical model also revealed spatial heterogeneity in ZCTA-level rate differences. For example, communities with a higher percentage of non-Hispanic Black or Pacific Islander residents had stronger wildfire PM2.5-outcome relationships, while more air conditioning and tree canopy attenuated associations. We found an important heterogeneity in wildfire smoke-related health impacts across air basins, counties, and ZCTAs, and we identified characteristics of vulnerable communities, providing evidence to guide policy development and resource allocation.
13 Dec 2023Submitted to ESS Open Archive
27 Dec 2023Published in ESS Open Archive