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Report: Prescribed burns cause smoke, but they can prevent worse pollution

As the wildfire seasons continue to get worse in the West, the American Lung Association says air quality is getting worse, too.  A new report from the Association says prescribed burns are key to maintaining a healthy environment.

JoAnna Strother, senior advocacy director with the American Lung Association in Arizona, said fires cause particle pollution, but when it comes to prescribed burns, the overall benefits outweigh the risks.

“While there will be harmful smoke in the air, it can be much less catastrophic than a wildfire," Strother said. 

Strother said prescribed burns are an effective way to prevent wildfires. And the health risks of prescribed burns are lower, she said, since prescribed burn fires are smaller, they can be planned around air quality conditions, and sensitive groups can be warned in advance about the impacts of smoke.

This year, the American Lung Association gave the Phoenix area its  worst-ever ranking for particle pollution. And Strother said wildfires have been a major factor in the region's worsening conditions. 

"We’re definitely concerned," Strother said. "We know that short-term particle spikes can lead to a variety of health issues, but can also contribute to lung cancer.” 

Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent reporting on a variety of issues, including public health and climate change.