The increasing frequency and severity of wildfires poses human health risks, especially for those within burnt regions. The potential health effects of fire ash on farmworkers in orchards via inhalation exposure after fire is rarely studied. After the 2017 Thomas Fire, in Ventura County (California, USA), fire ash and corresponding soil samples were collected from several impacted orchards and analyzed for eight trace elements (TEs) and 16 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Results indicate that except for mercury (Hg), the concentrations of TEs and PAHs were higher in ash samples compared with the corresponding soil samples. In general, ash samples showed greater potential to expose farmworkers to health risks than the corresponding soil samples. One site had particularly high concentrations of As (778 mg kg), Cr (629 mg kg), and Cu (499 mg kg) in the ash. This location corresponds to a house which was burned during the Thomas Fire, which might have contained chromated copper arsenate as a wood preservative. Therefore, the existence of construction materials in orchards could add hazardous materials to ash deposited on soil. Furthermore, a monitored dust generation experiment was designed to obtain the particle emission factors (PEF) of soil and ash, which is an essential parameter for the calculation of inhalation health risks. A two-fold difference in the PEFs was found between ash and the corresponding soil sample. Hence, health risks through inhalation exposure from fire ash may be underestimated if the default PEF suggested by the US Environmental Protection Agency is used.
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