Environmental justice analysis of wildfire-related PM2.5 exposure using low-cost sensors in California

TitleEnvironmental justice analysis of wildfire-related PM2.5 exposure using low-cost sensors in California
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2023
AuthorsKramer, AL, Liu, J, Li, L, Connolly, R, Barbato, M, Zhua, Y
JournalScience of The Total Environment
Date Published01/2023
KeywordsCensus tract exposure, Low-cost PM sensors, PM2.5, technical reports and journal articles, Wildfire emissions


• Wildfire may exacerbate health disparities & environmental justice concerns.
• Low-cost PM2.5 sensors improve wildfire impact assessment.
• Increases in PM2.5 correlate with wildfire activity (within 30 km).
• Indoor increases in PM2.5 concentrations mimic outdoor PM2.5 increase patterns.

The increasing number and severity of wildfires is negatively impacting air quality for millions of California residents each year. Community exposure to PM2.5 in two main population centers (San Francisco Bay area and Los Angeles County area) was assessed using the low-cost PurpleAir sensor network for the record-setting 2020 California wildfire season. Estimated PM2.5 concentrations in each study area were compared to census tract-level environmental justice vulnerability indicators, including environmental, health, and demographic data. Higher PM2.5 concentrations were positively correlated with poverty, cardiovascular emergency department visits, and housing inequities. Sensors within 30 km of actively burning wildfires showed statistically significant increases in indoor (~800 %) and outdoor (~540 %) PM2.5 during the fires. Results indicate that wildfire emissions may exacerbate existing health disparities as well as the burden of pollution in disadvantaged communities, suggesting a need to improve monitoring and adaptive capacity among vulnerable populations.