Study Shows 75% Maui Wildfire Surveyees Have Respiratory Issues

Researchers from the University of Hawaii found that more than half of the people surveyed showed signs of reduced lung function, and as many as 74% may have difficulty breathing and poor respiratory health in general as a result of the terrible wildfires that hit Maui last year.

The data, collected from 679 individuals in both February and January, is part of a study that researchers are hoping to follow wildfire survivors for at least ten years. Their long-term goal is to recruit 2,000 participants in their research, which will provide them with a picture of the approximately 10,000 persons impacted by the fires.

According to Dr. Alika Maunakea of John A. Burns School of Medicine, those who reported being exposed to the wildfire more often had a greater number of symptoms.

Many research participants hadn’t visited a doctor. Some couldn’t because clinics burned down, or they prioritized homes, work, and food following the crisis. Maunakea advised wildfire victims to be examined as future difficulties may arise.

Two-thirds of survey participants resided in Lahaina during the fires. Nearly half of those taking part experienced daily or weekly exposure to smoke, ash, or debris.

Smoke particles may penetrate the lungs. Fine particles may irritate the lungs and cause shortness of breath. It may aggravate heart disease and asthma.

The worst U.S. wildfire in almost a century killed 101 people on Aug. 8. The fire damaged thousands of structures, displaced 12,000 people, and devastated Maui.

Plant root stabilization may no longer work after a wildfire, depending on the damage. In such instances, erosion may damage land and water supplies. Unstable soil may result in mudslides, floods, and land degradation.

Researchers want to prevent a recurrence of the increased cancer and mortality rates that survivors of the September 11, 2001 attacks endured two decades after the fact, according to Maunakea.

An unaffiliated medical expert from Oregon Science & Health University who specializes in pulmonary and critical care, Dr. Gopal Allada, said that it would have been ideal if the study subjects had completed comparable lung function testing prior to the fire. However, it was impossible.

Over time, he expects that the researchers will be able to get financing to sustain their studies.