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Wildfire exposure increases the risk of certain cancers

In a recent study from McGill University, researchers tracked over two million people for twenty years to investigate the link between wildfire exposure and cancer rates. The results show that people exposed to wildfires are more likely to develop lung cancer and brain tumors.  

“Wildfires tend to happen in the same locations each year, but we know very little about the long-term health effects of these events. Our study shows that living in close proximity to wildfires may increase the risk of certain cancers,” said Scott Weichenthal, an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Occupational Health at McGill.

People living within 50 kilometers of wildfires over the last ten years had 10 percent higher instances of brain tumors and 4.9 percent higher instances of lung cancer. 

Although one of the main culprits for cancer in wildfires comes from poor air quality and carcinogens emitted into the air, this isn’t the only problem. Fires also pollute water supplies where many toxins can run off to collect in streams and lakes. Likewise, soil can also be polluted by wildfires. Regardless of how exposure occurs, there are several carcinogens released by wildfires.  

 “Many of the pollutants emitted by wildfires are known human carcinogens, suggesting that exposure could increase cancer risk in humans,” said Jill Korsiak, a PhD student in Professor Weichenthal’s lab who led the analysis.

“Exposure to harmful environmental pollutants might continue beyond the period of active burning through several routes of exposure,” added Professor Weichenthal.

Unfortunately, due to climate change and mismanagement of forests, wildfires are on the rise and expected to continue to increase in frequency and intensity. Research into the health impacts of fires will only become more relevant as the negative impact of climate change becomes more widespread.  

The research is published in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health.

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

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