The impact of wildfires on air pollution and health across land use categories in Brazil over a 16-year period
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Forest fires cause many environmental impacts, including air pollution. Brazil is a very fire-prone region where few studies have investigated the impact of wildfires on air quality and health. We proposed to test two hypotheses in this study: i) the wildfires in Brazil have increased the levels of air pollution and posed a health hazard in 2003-2018, and ii) the magnitude of this phenomenon depends on the type of land use and land cover (e.g., forest area, agricultural area, etc.). Satellite and ensemble models derived data were used as input in our analyses. Wildfire events were retrieved from Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS), provided by NASA; air pollution data from the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS); meteorological variables from the ERA-Interim model; and land use/cover data were derived from pixel-based classification of Landsat satellite images by MapBiomas. We used a framework that infers the "wildfire penalty" by accounting for differences in linear pollutant annual trends (β) between two models to test these hypotheses. The first model was adjusted for Wildfire-related Land Use activities (WLU), considered as an adjusted model. In the second model, defined as an unadjusted model, we removed the wildfire variable (WLU). Both models were controlled by meteorological variables. We used a generalized additive approach to fit these two models. To estimate mortality associated with wildfire penalties, we applied health impact function. Our findings suggest that wildfire events between 2003 and 2018 have increased the levels of air pollution and posed a significant health hazard in Brazil, supporting our first hypothesis. For example, in the Pampa biome, we estimated an annual wildfire penalty of 0.005 μg/m3 (95%CI: 0.001; 0.009) on PM2.5. Our results also confirm the second hypothesis. We observed that the greatest impact of wildfires on PM2.5 concentrations occurred in soybean areas in the Amazon biome. During the 16 years of the study period, wildfires originating from soybean areas in the Amazon biome were associated with a total penalty of 0.64 μg/m3 (95%CI: 0.32; 0.96) on PM2.5, causing an estimated 3872 (95%CI: 2560; 5168) excess deaths. Sugarcane crops were also a driver of deforestation-related wildfires in Brazil, mainly in Cerrado and Atlantic Forest biomes. Our findings suggest that between 2003 and 2018, fires originating from sugarcane crops were associated with a total penalty of 0.134 μg/m3 (95%CI: 0.037; 0.232) on PM2.5 in Atlantic Forest biome, resulting in an estimated 7600 (95%CI: 4400; 10,800) excess deaths during the study period, and 0.096 μg/m3 (95%CI: 0.048; 0.144) on PM2.5 in Cerrado biome, resulting in an estimated 1632 (95%CI: 1152; 2112) excess deaths during the study period. Considering that the wildfire penalties observed during our study period may continue to be a challenge in the future, this study should be of interest to policymakers to prepare future strategies related to forest protection, land use management, agricultural activities, environmental health, climate change, and sources of air pollution.