Report: Most Kansans Breathe Smoky Air

Oct 25, 2013

A new report says nearly all Kansans are exposed to air that's polluted with smoke, but the source of that smoke isn't clear.

The report from a non-profit environmental group, the Natural Resources Defense Council, shows that virtually all Kansans breathed smoke pollution in 2011 and that 2.8 million Kansans were exposed to medium-to-high-density smoke for anywhere from 12 to 47 days.

Columbia University Environmental Health Professor Patrick Kinney says smoke is a serious health hazard, even if you can’t smell it.

“If you can smell it, then I would be concerned from a health point of view," he says. "Our noses are pretty sensitive, but the levels that are associated with adverse health effects are really quite low."

Kinney says fire smoke contains hundreds of compounds. This study looked at tiny particles of soot that can get into the lungs, and cause breathing and heart problems. NRDC senior scientist Kim Knowlton says the World Health Organization has just declared these tiny particles carcinogenic.

The new study used weather satellite data and ground-based air quality monitors to show the effects of wildfires. Knowlton concedes, however, this study could not distinguish Texas wildfire smoke from smoke due to controlled burning of fields and pastures in Kansas.