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Wildfire Smoke and Health Risk Communication Workshop and Report

The EPA convened the Wildfire Smoke and Health Risk Communication Workshop on Sept. 22-23, 2016 with the goal to identify opportunities for research and technological solutions that will improve health-risk communication strategies, increase health-protective behaviors, and reduce the public-health burden during wildland fire smoke episodes.

This workshop piloted an interdisciplinary and multi-stakeholder research problem formulation approach to improve understanding of knowledge gaps in health risk communication concerning wildfire smoke. Attendees included federal, state, and tribal health risk communicators and scientists.  

The workshop organizing team summarized the activities and discussions of the workshop in the Wildfire Smoke and Health Risk Communication Workshop Report, which is available online and on this web page.

Over the course of the two-day workshop, the team engaged participants in developing a shared and multidimensional understanding of the following questions:

  • What is the nature of the public health problem associated with smoke exposures that reflects community attributes and experiences?  
  • What types of information and actions related to risk communication and management might be appropriate for future scientific evaluation? 

Problem Statement Discussion

The first day discussion sessions focused on developing problem statements for each of five breakout group topics related to aspects of wildfire smoke and health risk communication. The topics were:  

  • Assessment of risks from exposure to wildfire smoke
  • Coordination between agencies and stakeholders
  • Government agency interventions to mitigate exposures and health effects
  • Improving air quality awareness – message content
  • Improving air quality awareness – message delivery mechanisms

Identifying Research Opportunities

The second day discussions focused on identifying potential research and development opportunities to address the knowledge gaps. The context for discussion across various levels of engagement and expertise was provided through participant presentations on community engagement, multi-state/regional/federal engagement, and research perspectives, as well as through poster presentations that had been given the previous day.

The second-day breakout group discussions focused on identifying potential research and technology development directions that can help bridge the gaps and lead to solutions. These included:

  • Application of research from the social sciences to include the voices of underserved populations in the development and delivery of messages – building trust in impacted communities.
  • Identification of barriers (knowledge, attitudes, resources) to protective action, and new methods and technologies that incorporate social as well as technological information to fill in gaps in information to craft better messages.
  • Evaluation of the use of additional information to supplement the Air Quality Index during wildfires.
  • Evaluation of the effectiveness of interventions – metrics for determining who received what messages, actions taken, public health benefit.
  • Design of a monitoring network that would better capture wildland fire smoke emissions and a process for disseminating information from the network.
  • Development of finer scale modeling of smoke and integration with monitoring data.
  • Addition of studies of health impacts of smoke, both acute and chronic exposures.
  • Development of an online resource to house and share communication materials that have been effective. 

The information learned during the workshop will assist EPA scientists to refine and improve future social science integration workshops and advance the science on wildland fire research.

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