Augusto, S., Ratola, N.,Tarin-Carrasco, P., Jimenez-Guerrero, P., Turco, M., Schuhmacher, M., Costa, S., Teixeira, J.P. & Costa, C. (2020) Population exposure to particulate-matter and related mortality due to the Portuguese wildfires in October 2017 driven by storm Ophelia.Environment International, 144, 106056. DOI:10.1016/j.envint.2020.106056 (IF2020 9,621; Q1 Environmental Sciences)
In October 2017, hundreds of wildfires ravaged the forests of the north and centre of Portugal. The fires were fanned by strong winds as tropical storm Ophelia swept the Iberian coast, dragging up smoke (together with Saharan dust from north-western Africa) into higher western European latitudes. Here we analyse the long-range transport of particulate matter (PM10) and study associations between PM10 and short-term mortality in the Portuguese population exposed to PM10 due to the October 2017 wildfires, the worst fire sequence in the country over the last decades. We analysed space- and ground-level observations to track the smoke plume and dust trajectory over Portugal and Europe, and to access PM10 concentrations during the wildfires. The effects of PM10 on mortality were evaluated using satellite data for exposure and Poisson regression models. The smoke plume covered most western European countries (including Spain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands), and reached the United Kingdom, where the population was exposed in average to an additional PM10 level of 11.7 µg/m3 during seven smoky days (three with dust) in relation to the reference days (days without smoke or dust), revealing the impact of the wildfires on distant populations. In Portugal, the population was exposed in average to additional PM10 levels that varied from 16.2 to 120.6 µg/m3 in smoky days with dust and from 6.1 to 20.9 µg/m3 in dust-free smoky days. Results suggest that PM10 had a significant effect on the same day natural and cardiorespiratory mortalities during the month of October 2017. For every additional 10 µg/m3 of PM10, there was a 0.89% (95% confidence interval, CI, 0–1.77%) increase in the number of natural deaths and a 2.34% (95% CI, 0.99–3.66%) increase in the number of cardiorespiratory-related deaths. With rising temperatures and a higher frequency of storms due to climate change, PM from Iberian wildfires together with NW African dust will tend to be more often transported into Northern European countries, which may carry health threats to areas far from the ignition sites.