Date of Graduation

Fall 12-15-2022

Document Access

Project/Capstone - Global access

Degree Name

Master of Science in Environmental Management (MSEM)


College of Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Stephanie Siehr


Climate change projections show that wildfires are becoming more severe and frequent over the next few decades. In California, as a leader in environmental protection and resilience planning, there are still concerns about the impacts of wildfire. Several places such as Napa Valley, Los Angeles forests, and Yosemite National Park have been exposed to long-lasting wildfire damage. Wildfire smoke contains toxic pollutants such as particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) that can cause negative health impacts on the public. It has been proved that these public health impacts are cumulative, and wildfire PM2.5 can exacerbate pre-existing conditions. Therefore, there is an urgent need for better wildfire-related action plans that can mitigate the impacts of the wildfire on vulnerable communities. This research serves as a risk assessment report to examine the public health impacts of wildfire smoke exposure in California and determine the effectiveness of mitigation strategies. The methodology of the risk assessment follows the guideline provided by US EPA, which includes hazard identification, dose-response assessment, exposure assessment, risk characterization, and risk management. Specifically, analysis of publicly available data and literature, comparative analysis of wildfire smoke impacts of people receiving mitigation strategies, case studies of several public health impacts during wildfires, and analysis of wildfire smoke exposure sites and exposed populations are included to accomplish the risk assessment report. Results show that public health issues such as respiratory and cardiovascular illness are correlated with wildfire smoke exposure. The sudden increase in PM2.5 concentration during wildfire season can lead to an increase in local hospital admissions. Indoor air filtration and using N95 masks can be two effective and accessible methods for residents to mitigate wildfire smoke exposure. Cities are implementing mitigation actions in resilience plans for wildfire itself but only a few actions address the smoke impacts. Recommendations for cities to have more inclusive adaptation and mitigation measures to wildfire smoke exposure include: 1) using the monitoring system to setup thresholds for PM2.5 concentration in communities and developing methods to precisely identify vulnerable communities, 2) a further study about the correlation wildfire PM2.5 and health impacts 3) development of well-designed air filtrations systems and distribution of N95 masks, 4) publish stringent regulations to ensure outdoor workers are protected from hazards. These recommendations emphasize the importance of inclusivity and minimizing the disproportionate impacts of wildfire smoke exposure on vulnerable communities.