Smoke impacts Colorado as wildfires burn in Canada

Wildfire season is getting a slow start in Colorado, but smoke from fires hundreds of miles to the north is impacting air quality across the state.
Published: May. 23, 2023 at 3:30 PM MDT
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DENVER, Colo. (KJCT) - That thick wildfire smoke filling the air on the front range is actually billions of microscopic particles called PM 2.5 — particulate matter that’s smaller than 2.5 microns.

You can fit 10 of these particles across the width of a human hair. One PM 2.5 particle is four times smaller than a single grain of dust or pollen.

Experts estimate that on a day when the Air Quality Index is higher than 150, like it was over the weekend, every person can breathe in 39.6 million smoke particles.

The particles first get into our lungs and interfere with the intake of oxygen and the release of carbon dioxide, causing inflammation and respiratory problems.

“But one of our concerns about PM 2.5 is not only the impact it has on our lungs, but the impact it has on multiple organ systems such as our brains, our hearts, potentially our digestive system, our kidneys,” said CSU Epidemiologist Sheryl Magzaman.

Magzaman studies the smoke impact on humans, and she has a few theories. One — the particles are so small, they can get past our lungs and move through our body using the blood vessels. Two — inflammation that starts in our lungs can also spread to other organs. Three — it’s a little of both.

She says the main concern is for people with preexisting health issues, while healthy people can experience symptoms for a few hours to a few days before the body clears the pollution.

But she says new studies have shown that even healthy people should be concerned about the long-term effects.

“So when we get smoke exposure seasonally, year after year, there are some studies that suggest that it increases mortality – or decreases our lifespans over time after many many years of chronic exposure to smoke”