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Regional Interests

Wildfires and smoke are affecting our mental health

Wildfire smoke turns the sky orange at the Oregon Capitol in Salem, Ore., Sept. 8, 2020. Unprecedented wildfire conditions across Oregon and the American West kicked up several fires over Labor Day weekend last year.
Wildfire smoke turns the sky orange at the Oregon Capitol in Salem, Ore., Sept. 8, 2020. Unprecedented wildfire conditions across Oregon and the American West kicked up several fires over Labor Day weekend last year.

Oregonians have had yet another summer impacted by wildfires and lingering smoke. The immediate threat of fires is traumatic for those whose homes and businesses are directly in the path of a blaze. But the smoke from these fires spreads farther than the flames themselves, and has led to weeks of unhealthy, or even hazardous, air in cities around the region. David Eisenman is one of the few scientists who has studied the mental health impacts of wildfire smoke. His work also focuses on solastalgia — the specific grief people feel when a landscape we love is lost or dramatically altered. Eisenman is a professor of medicine and public health at the University of California, Los Angeles and the director of the UCLA Center for Public Health and Disasters. We talk with him about his work.

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