A known carcinogen is showing up in wildfire ash, and researchers are worried

By Joe Hernandez
National Public Radio
December 19, 2023
Category: Health & Safety
Region: United States, US West

CALIFORNIA — It’s widely known that wildfire smoke is bad for your health, but a group of researchers recently found a known carcinogen in California wildfire ash, raising concerns about just how harmful it could be to breathe the air near a blaze. According to a study in Nature Communications, researchers discovered dangerous levels of hexavalent chromium in samples of ash left behind by the Kincade and Hennessey fires in 2019 and 2020. Workers in the manufacturing industry who’ve been exposed to elevated levels of hexavalent chromium, or chromium 6, have higher rates of lung cancer, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. …Though the researchers only found hexavalent chromium in samples of wildfire ash and not wildfire smoke itself, Scott Fendorf said they inferred that it was likely also present in the smoke. …Hexavalent chromium is also known as the “Erin Brockovich chemical,” from the film starring Julia Roberts.

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