Where There's Smoke, There's Wildfire

How healthy is the air in your neck of the woods? If those woods are burning, you won’t be breathing easy.

December 17, 2015

Illustrated by: Chelsey B. Coombs

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently released data on U.S. air quality in 2015. When air pollution particles are smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter, they can penetrate the lungs and blood stream, triggering health problems like asthma and heart attacks. The map above illustrates where those particles (referred to as PM 2.5) were at their highest levels in the past year.

This pollution can come from forest fires, power plants, factories, and cars, and tends to be the most concentrated around cities. But PM 2.5 hotspots also occur out in the country, in places like California and Alaska. This is thanks to a record-bad year for wildfires, sparked by warmer temperatures and drought. Explore the data in an interactive map found here.

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Western Dispatch

Where quick-spreading fires are the “new normal,” some state officials and communities are willing to try whatever it takes to prevent—or better prepare for—the next big blaze.

Southwest Dispatch

As New Mexicans brace for a potentially catastrophic fire season, forest ecologists explain how we got here—and why the problem isn’t going away.

onEarth Story

A weekly roundup of the best in science journalism, doodled.

onEarth Story

And climate change is projected to bring more blazes—and harmful multiday smoke waves—in years to come.

Personal Action

Fire-wise tips for your home, your garden beds, the fence line, and that marshmallow roast you’re planning.

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.