Researchers studying the impacts of a major coal mine fire in Australia found children who were in utero at the time were more likely to suffer respiratory infections in early childhood. The findings of study surprised scientists because “inhalation is presumed to be the primary route of exposure to air pollutants.” In 2014, a fire at an open-cut coal mine engulfed the town of Morwell in smoke for two months, and a separate study of children under two years old at the time of the fire also found reduced lung function when examined three years later. The new findings carry warnings for pregnant people, the Australian authors warned, as climate change drives increasing risk for bushfires, which will expose more people to smoke.
“The study is important because it tells us we can’t ignore what happened to these children and their families. Also it tells us this is an Australia-wide problem because that short and sharp impact happened to people all over Australia with the most recent fires,” Dr. Jo McCubbin, told The Guardian. (The Guardian; Climate Signals background: Wildfires)