Forest fires have been widely and mostly associated with the loss of biodiversity and increasing rate of air pollution, but the latest research from the Duke University and the National University of Singapore found that externalities of forest fires have been mostly under-researched and ignored. The findings reveled that forest fire are more harmful than ever considered before, resulting in stunted growth in those children who were exposed to smoke in the womb.
The research found that pre-natal exposure to haze from forest fires led to a statistically significant 1.3 inch decrease in expected height at age 17. The researchers said that it is not a claim that exposure to air pollution later in life does not impact height, rather that the initial early life exposure is the dominant channel.
“From past analyses, there is strong evidence showing that early-life exposure to air pollutants is associated with low birth weight and preterm birth. The suspected pathways from air pollutants to birth outcomes are inflammation and direct toxic effects to the placenta and fetus, oxygen supply to the fetus, and DNA expression,” stated the findings.
The finding also states that with respect to longer-term effects of the early exposures, there are chances that lasting and irreversible damage to cardiovascular and respiratory health and that low birth weight is associated with shorter height in adulthood.
The annual Druk Ranger magazine reported that fires destroyed about 16,000 acres of forest reserve in 2017-18. The most significant threat to Bhutan’s forest is the occurrence of forest fires which destroys thousands of acres of forest every year, the effect on biodiversity especially through destruction in habitat causing the loss of endangered flora and fauna, the loss of infrastructure and assets and risk to human livelihood due to the forest fires are of great concern,” stated the annual Druk Ranger magazine.
Although the country sees numerous forest fires every year, the health impacts of exposure to such haze and smoke is not researched as much as it merits or rather, many are oblivious to it.
The study integrated data on mothers’ exposure to widespread Indonesian forest fires in 1997 with longitudinal data on nutritional outcomes, genetic inheritance, climatic factors and various socio-demographic factors and came out with the findings.