According to a recent study published in the journal Environmental Research: Health, Indigenous people in the Amazon Basin are twice as likely to experience premature death due to smoke exposure from wildfires, compared to the general population of South America. The study identified regions in Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil as hotspots for smoke exposure, with mortality rates reaching up to 6 times higher than the general population.
The study estimated that smoke from wildfires in South America results in around 12,000 premature deaths annually from 2014 to 2019, with around 230 of these deaths occurring in Indigenous territories. The study found that exposure to harmful smoke particles is much higher during the Amazonian dry season, from July to November each year, as wildfires more than double the increase in PM2.5 concentrations.
Dr. Eimy Bonilla, the lead author of the study, explained that despite Indigenous territories accounting for relatively few fires in the Amazon Basin, the people living in these areas are at significantly greater risk of health problems from smoke particles.
The study, led by researchers from Harvard University, used a combination of atmospheric chemical transport models and an updated concentration response function to estimate the rate of premature mortality for Indigenous populations exposed to high concentrations of PM2.5.
The rate of biomass burning in South America has increased in recent years due to forest degradation from human activities like mining, logging, and agricultural land use, as well as variations in climate conditions. Wildfires release PM2.5 particles that can cause respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, cancer, premature births, metabolic dysfunction, and other physiological symptoms. Smoke particles from biomass burning in the Amazon Basin travel long distances, affecting air quality in multiple South American countries.
According to Bonilla, these fires have a disproportionate impact on Indigenous populations as they are located closer to the fires, are exposed to smoke particles for longer periods of time, and lack access to appropriate medical care, hygiene materials, and clean water. The researchers recommend that governments provide financial assistance to monitor air quality in these regions and supply low-cost sensors to study the impact of short- and long-term exposure to smoke.
Source: IOP Publishing