Intense Wildfires in Northern California Transform Soil into Cancer-Causing Substance
Scientists have made a disturbing discovery regarding the recent intense wildfires that have plagued Northern California. It has been found that these wildfires are transforming once benign soil into a cancer-causing substance known as hexavalent chromium. This metal, which is naturally found in the soil in California, becomes a notorious carcinogen when exposed to the extreme heat generated by severe wildfires.
The study suggests that these wildfires in natural areas can release smoke into the atmosphere that contains toxic metals, including hexavalent chromium. As climate change continues to increase the frequency and severity of wildfires, the risk of soil transforming into carcinogenic dust and ash becomes even greater.
Hexavalent chromium is a known carcinogen, and exposure to large amounts of it has been linked to lung cancer. This metal gained notoriety in the famous Hinkley, California case depicted in the movie “Erin Brockovich,” where it polluted water sources. Due to the lack of a safe level of exposure, the California Air Resources Board has recently passed a rule to phase out hexavalent chromium at industrial facilities.
The transformation of hexavalent chromium occurs when the metal is heated above 390 degrees Fahrenheit. This chemical reaction changes the metal from its relatively harmless trivalent form to the dangerous hexavalent form. Researchers studying areas where wildfires burned intensely found dangerous levels of hexavalent chromium in chaparral shrubs growing in soil rich with this metal.
Further research is needed to fully understand the risk associated with hexavalent chromium released during wildfires. Scientists are currently working on air sampling techniques during these events to predict the risk based on the geology and vegetation of the affected areas. Previous studies have shown that wildfires also create toxic metal pollution, with elevated levels of lead, zinc, calcium, iron, and manganese found in smoke after the devastating Camp Fire in 2018.
The impact of wildfire smoke on human health remains a significant concern, and this recent study underscores the urgent need to address the effects of climate change on wildfires and their associated risks. As wildfires burn hotter and for longer durations, the transformation of soil into cancer-causing substances becomes a growing threat to both human and environmental health.
Overall, these findings shed light on a new danger posed by wildfires and emphasize the critical importance of mitigating the effects of climate change to protect our communities and ecosystems.