Safe from Wildfire Smoke

Particulate matter released from wildfires has been found to be approximately 10 times more harmful to respiratory health than ambient air pollution, particularly in young children.

A health care worker conducts a check ups on a young boy in Malawi.
UNICEF/UNI525061/Mmina/Elephant Media


The impact of wildfire smoke on children is profound and unsettling. Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) has been found to be up to 10 times more harmful to children’s respiratory health compared to PM2.5 from other sources, and particularly so to children between 0 and 5 years.

Wildfire smoke has been extensively linked to increased morbidity issues in exposed populations.  Children develop and exacerbate issues from asthma and poor lung function to mental health disorders. Prenatal exposure of pregnant women to wildfire smoke is associated with low birthweight, premature birth and increased risk of stillbirth. Other enduring impacts can result from related injuries, disabilities, trauma, loss of learning and recreational opportunities, and displacement.

This technical note endeavors to summarize the latest evidence on the impacts of wildfire smoke on child health and wellbeing, alongside providing guidance and tools for implementing mitigation and adaptation measures.  The note is intended for health providers, implementers and policymakers, and complements existing guidance on air pollution. 

Published in May 2024 

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