US wildfire pollution linked to more covid-19 cases deaths


The Dixie Fire in California, in late July 2021

REUTERS / Alamy

Polluted air caused by smoke released from the record-breaking wildfires in the US last year has been linked to a strong increase in covid-19 cases deaths.

Francesca Dominici at Harvard University her colleagues say 19,742 recorded covid-19 cases 748 covid-related deaths can be linked to spikes in tiny particulate matter, PM2.5, released by the blazes in California, Oregon Washington.

Links between long-term exposure to dirty air greater risk of death severe illness from covid-19 have already been well-documented. But the new research puts numbers on how short-term exposure to pollution, in this case from wildfires, may have made the pandemic’s health impact worse.

“What this is saying is, number one, especially for the counties affected by wildfires, people should absolutely get vaccinated wear a mask,” says Dominici.

The team looked at daily data on covid-19 cases deaths PM2.5 levels between March December 2020 in 92 counties which cover 95 per cent of the population in California, Oregon Washington. They then accounted for other possible explanations for links, including looking at the weather Facebook data on how much people moved around, considered a counterfactual world without the fires.

Across the counties as a whole, they found each extra 10 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic metre of air over 28 days was linked to an 11.7 per cent increase in coronavirus cases, a 52.8 per cent increase in covid-19 deaths. Some counties saw PM2.5 levels higher than 500 micrograms per cubic metre for days in a row due to fires, well above the level deemed “hazardous” by US environmental authorities.

The impact of pollution on covid-19 cases deaths varied widely between areas. Dominici says that is probably because “the trajectory of the pandemic within each county was very, very different”. The team thinks cases increased due to PM2.5 exposure because it led to more severe illness. This might also have had an impact even on people with mild illness. For instance, people with what would ordinarily have been an asymptomatic infection might have developed symptoms.

There are some caveats. Dominici says there may yet be other explanations for the link that the team didn’t account for. And the amount of PM2.5 people were estimated to be exposed to, using smoke satellite images, may not reflect their true exposure.

Nonetheless, the research implies there is another motivation to cut the carbon dioxide emissions which are projected to worsen wildfires in the western US as the world warms. “This also provides another reason why tackling climate change is so important,” says Dominici.

Journal reference: Science Advances, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abi8789

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Afghanistan translator ‘just waiting for Taliban to kill me’ after he risked his life for US


An Afghan translator who helped U.S. forces in the region now fears for his life as the Taliban terrorist group continues its takeover of the Middle Eastern country. 

“I don’t want to die,” Faridoon Hazeen wrote to Fox News in an email.  

He later said on the phone, “I feel like a man drowning….I am reaching out to anything anyone to save me.” 

The 39-year-old father of four is just one of the thousands of people in Afghanistan who could be at the top of a kill list if the Taliban were to fully take over the country.   He has been trying for years to get a U.S. visa, with no luck.  Recently, he’s emailed the U.S. embassy in Kabul four times but with no clear response. 

President Biden said recently amid the troop withdrawal that Afghan translators are welcome in the U.S., although he said bringing them here would take action from Congress. 

“And that’s why we’re asking Congress to consider changing the law. But in the meantime, we can guarantee their safety if they wish to leave by taking them to third countries,” Biden said. 

AFGHAN TRANSLATORS, FAMILIES FEAR TALIBAN TAKEOVER AS THEY TRY ESCAPING TO US

While the Taliban has not yet taken over the Afghan capital of Kabul in its merciless offensive to bring its cruel fundamentalist governance back to the country, Hazeen feels they are getting closer. 

“You get the feeling the city could fall at any minute,” he said.   

He said he believes Taliban members are already infiltrating the city: “To be honest…I have a different type of feeling as I walk around the city.” 

He said he’s seeing more young people in Kabul, from different parts of the country, strangers, even from next-door Pakistan.

Things will be bad for a lot of people in Afghanistan if the Taliban get its way.  

Hazeen, who acted as a translator for Americans interviewing high-value targets feels especially vulnerable.    

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He spoke of a nearby mosque where worshippers were told that when the Taliban comes they will deal with those who worked with foreigners first.  He said he’s gotten nearly a dozen calls in the last ten days with threats against his life.  He fears Taliban-friendly neighbors will turn him in.

He’s already sent his family away from his home fears especially for his wife 11-year-old daughter.  In areas that the Taliban has occupied, there are reports of women girls being taken as wives of Taliban fighters.   

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And that is the real problem with the possible full-throated return of the group. As much as they claim they’ve changed since the last time they were in charge of Afghanistan some 20 years ago, recent reports of summary executions abuse tell a different story. 

Hazeen knows this full well.   

“I am just waiting for the Taliban to kill me,” he said. He’s not alone. 



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