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    Feinstein to HHS: Examine Impacts of Wildfires on Hospitals, Health Infrastructure

    Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called on the Department of Health and Human Services to examine and develop a plan to address the impacts of wildfires and wildfire smoke on hospitals and health infrastructure.

    HHS currently tracks hospitalizations and illnesses related to extreme heat and air pollution but not wildfires. Wildfires directly caused 178 deaths in California from 2008 to 2018, but preliminary research at UCLA indicates that wildfire smoke contributed to 11,500 additional deaths over that same time period.

    “Although the threat from wildfires to our at-risk communities and forests is obvious, the burdens to our health system remain poorly understood, particularly among vulnerable populations,” Senator Feinstein wrote. “Fortunately, HHS has already funded preliminary work in this area, including HHS-supported studies examining the impacts of wildfire smoke on respiratory hospitalizations and cardiac arrests. Creating a tool for wildfire hospitalizations analogous to the Centers for Disease Control’s Heat and Health Tracker would improve community wildfire resilience and increase researchers’ understanding of how wildfire smoke is increasing hospitalizations and health care costs.”

    Full text of the letter is available here and follows:

    March 7, 2023

    The Honorable Xavier Becerra
    Secretary
    Department of Health and Human Services
    200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
    Washington, DC 20201

    Dear Secretary Becerra,

    I write to request that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Climate Change and Health Equity examine the impacts of wildfires and wildfire smoke on the United States’ health infrastructure and create a plan to address those impacts.

    As you know, the annual acreage burned by wildfires in the United States has doubled to 7.4 million acres since the 1990’s, exposing more Americans to the detrimental health effects of wildfire smoke. Days with smoky air attributable to wildfires have quadrupled for major cities in California over the past ten years. From 2008 – 2018, wildfires directly caused 178 deaths in California, but preliminary research at UC Los Angeles indicates that wildfire smoke contributed to 11,500 additional deaths over the same time period.

    Although the threat from wildfires to our at-risk communities and forests is obvious, the burdens to our health system remain poorly understood, particularly among vulnerable populations. Fortunately, HHS has already funded preliminary work in this area, including HHS-supported studies examining the impacts of wildfire smoke on respiratory hospitalizations and cardiac arrests. Creating a tool for wildfire hospitalizations analogous to the Centers for Disease Control’s Heat and Health Tracker would improve community wildfire resilience and increase researchers’ understanding of how wildfire smoke is increasing hospitalizations and health care costs.

    Thank you for your efforts to date to improve health outcomes amidst the threat of climate change. As the nation prepares for another season of wildfires, I urge you to leverage existing HHS knowledge and capabilities to better understand the health and economic impacts of wildfire smoke. Thank you for your consideration of this important issue.

    Sincerely,

    Dianne Feinstein
    United States Senator

    Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
    Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)https://www.feinstein.senate.gov/
    As California's senior Senator, Dianne Feinstein has built a reputation as an independent voice, working with both Democrats and Republicans to find common-sense solutions to the problems facing California and the Nation.
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