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Smoke From Wildfires in Southwest May Be Health Hazard
Date:6/23/2011

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, June 23 (HealthDay News) -- With record-breaking wildfires scorching the American Southwest, experts are worried not just about the environmental and property damage, but also about health risks both to nearby residents and to those living farther away.

Although at this point reports are anecdotal, people on the front lines of health care in the Southwest are noticing an uptick of respiratory problems among certain groups of people.

The Gallup Indian Medical Center, which sits on the border of the Navajo Reservation in western New Mexico, is seeing a lot of asthma-related complaints, said Heidi Krapfl, chief of the environmental health epidemiology bureau at the New Mexico Department of Health in Santa Fe.

Similar problems are being seen in more distant parts of the state.

"We've definitely seen patients in the emergency room who have come in with a worsening of their chronic lung disease like asthma or COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] that they've attributed to the smoke," said Dr. Mike Richards, chief of emergency medicine at the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque.

As of Wednesday afternoon, large wildfires were raging uncontained in southeast Arizona and along the state's border with Mexico; along the eastern edge of New Mexico; in multiple locations throughout Texas and along the Texas-Louisiana border, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

For weeks now, Albuquerque has been on the receiving end of huge banks of smoke and ash from the Wallow fire 200 or so miles away.

Smoke and ash have turned the setting sun red, reduced driving visibility and obscured normally crystal clear views of the 11,000-foot mountains edging Albuquerque's eastern perimeters. On some days, the smell of burning is overwhelming.

Jo Jordan, a 20-year resident of Albuquerque, attributes a rare migraine to smoke blowing in from the
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