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69 Million People Exposed to 'Killer Haze' During Wildfire in Indonesia

Nov 17, 2016 04:43 AM EST

Latest study from Scientific Reports reveals that massive wildfires in Indonesia and Borneo had produced unhealthy air pollution, exposing 69 million people and causing thousands of cases of premature deaths.

The wildfire greatly affected the forests and peatland of Equatorial Asia during the autumn of 2015. Experts have found that a quarter of people living in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia were severely exposed to the killer haze between September and October 2015.

In an article by Eureka Alert, the lead author of the study, Dr. Paola Crippa, from Newcastle University, UK, said: "Our study estimated that between 6,150 and 17,270 premature deaths occurred due to breathing in the polluted air over that short two month period. To put this into perspective, we estimate that around 1 in 6,000 people exposed to the polluted haze from these fires died as a result. The uncertainty in these estimates is mostly due to the lack of medical studies on exposure from extreme air pollution in the area."

Upon analyzing hourly air quality data from a model at a resolution of 10km, they discovered that the during the two-month fire, levels of PM2.5 - the most dangerous of these tiny toxic particles - were on average above 70 μg/m³ with peaks reaching 300 μg/m³ in densely populated areas such as Singapore.

"In most of the UK, levels of PM2.5 are usually below 10 μg/m³ and we would consider a serious pollution episode to be where concentrations rose to above 30 μg/m³. During these fires, Singapore experienced levels of pollution 10 times higher. It is hard for us in the UK to imagine air pollution as bad as that experienced across much of Indonesia and Singapore last autumn," Professor Dominick Spracklen, a co-author of the study based at the University of Leeds, explained.

The study raises awareness on the magnitude of the health consequences these wildfires come with, and that, unfortunately, last year's wildfire in Indonesia won't be the last.

"The wildfires of 2015 were the worst we've seen for almost two decades as a result of global climate change, land use changes, and deforestation. The extremely dry conditions in that region mean that these are likely to become more common events in the future, unless concerted action is taken to prevent fires,"Dr. Crippa warns.

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