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Population exposure to fine particles and estimated excess mortality in Finland from an East European wildfire episode

Otto O. Hänninen, Raimo O. Salonen, Kimmo Koistinen, Timo Lanki, Lars Barregard, Matti Jantunen

Long-range transported particulate matter (PM) air pollution episodes associated with wildfires in the Eastern Europe are relatively common in Southern and Southeastern Finland. In severe cases such as in August–September 2002, the reduced visibility and smell of the smoke, and symptoms such as irritation of eyes and airways experienced by the population raise the issue into the headlines. Because PM air pollution, in general, has been identified as a major health risk, and the exposures are of repeating nature, the issue warrants a risk assessment to estimate the magnitude of the problem. The current work uses the available air quality data in Finland to estimate population exposures caused by one of the worst episodes experienced in this decade. This episode originated from wildfires in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and the Baltic countries. The populations of 11 Southern Finnish provinces were exposed between 26 August and 8 September 2002, for 2 weeks to an additional population-weighted average PM2.5 level of 15.7 μg/m3. Assuming similar effect on mortality for these particles as observed in epidemiological time series studies on urban particles (0.5%–2% increase in mortality per 10 μg/m3, central estimate 1%), this exposure level would be associated with 9–34 cases (17 cases central estimate) of additional mortality. Epidemiological evidence specific to particles from biomass combustion is scarce, affecting also the reliability of the current risk assessment. Do the wildfire aerosols exhibit the same level of toxicity as the urban particles? To shed light on this question, it is interesting to look at the exposure data in relationship to the observed daily mortality in Finland, even though the limited duration of the episode allows only for a weak statistical power. The percentage increases observed (0.8%–2.1% per 10 μg/m3 of fine PM) are in line with the more general estimates for urban PM and those used in the current risk assessment.


Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, Vol. 19, No. 4. (4 June 2008), pp. 414-422, https://doi.org/10.1038/jes.2008.31 
Key: INRMM:2861524

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