Wildfire smoke exposure prompts reproductive health concerns

Wildfire smoke exposure prompts reproductive health concerns

descriptive image of pregnant woman

Unsplash / Dexter Chatuluka

Evidence of links between firefighting and fertility problems is mounting, but the most definitive conclusion so far is that the effects of firefighting on people who give birth are woefully under-studied, Grist reports.

Six-year veteran wildland firefighter Sophia Huston, who hasn’t gotten her period for three years, said she doesn’t know the long-term impacts of firefighting on her health and fertility, “I just know it’s not good for you.”

Wildfire smoke carries a toxic cocktail of fine particulate matter (technically known as PM2.5) and surface-level ozone. As climate change supercharges wildfires the population affected, sometimes fatally, by that pollution has grown dramatically. Wildfire smoke exposure in utero is linked to respiratory problems in children and has also been linked to preterm births — with systemic racism causing people of color to be disproportionately harmed by fine particulate pollution. In a profession built around cisgender men, firefighers who give birth are given essentially no information about the potential harms of the job, even though recent research found self-reported miscarriage rates among firefighters were 2.3 times higher than nurses (a cohort that is exposed to similar chemicals and work strains).

Other research found volunteer firefighters had higher miscarriage rates than career firefighters — counterintuitive findings that Alesia Jung, a postdoctoral student at the University of Arizona and the lead author of the study, told Grist underlines the need for more research. “Among male firefighters, reproductive issues are also a topic of concern,” Jung added.

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