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In California, unhealthy pollution from wildfire smoke has become dangerously common, MuckRock and partners find
Line graph depicting changes in the number of Californians exposed to extreme wildfire smoke between 2010 and 2020. Text included: From 2010 to 2015, fewer than 250,000 Californians lived in areas exposed to at least one day of 100 micrograms of PM2.5 each year. By 2020, that number increased to 4.5 million. Chart: George LeVines & Dillon Bergin. Source: Stanford University. Created by Datawrapper.

A decade ago, about 200,000 Californians a year lived in areas where they were exposed to extreme smoke days. By 2020, about 4.5 million did, according to an analysis of new research out of Stanford by The California Newsroom, MuckRock and Columbia University’s Brown Institute for Media Innovation.

The data reveals a huge shift in the impact of wildfire smoke in California in recent years, one that presents a threat to public health in the state.

How did we report and check the data?
The data used in this analysis comes from a study published in September 2022 in Environmental Science and Technology, “Daily Local-Level Estimates of Ambient Wildfire Smoke PM2.5 for the Contiguous US,” which estimates wildfire particulate matter 2.5 in 10-kilometer by 10-kilometer grids across the country, from 2006 to 2020. 

To analyze the study's findings at the county level for the state of California, we consulted with the researchers from Stanford, George Washington University, and the University of Colorado at Boulder, and aggregated these grids to both the county and state level.

Why are we reporting on wildfire smoke in California? 
Climate change is warming the planet, leading to more drought, higher temperatures and more devastating wildfires. In the Western U.S., wildfires are growing in size and happening more often. California has been hit especially hard by disastrous blazes.

When wildfires burn, small particles of pollution travel near and far. Humans breathe these particles in, and the health impacts of air pollution, like pollution from wildfire smoke, are widespread. 

MuckRock and our partners are reporting on wildfire smoke because as fires continue to grow and intensify, their lasting impact won’t just be on the trees or homes they burn, but also the health of Americans who breathe in their smoke.

Text excerpted from reporting by Molly Peterson, Dillon Bergin, and George LeVines. Chart by George LeVines and Dillon Bergin.

Read the full article
Explore the underlying data
Tell us how wildfire smoke affects your life
Introducing our first Chief Operating Officer, Amanda Hickman
Image of MuckRock's new Chief Operating Officer, Amanda Hickman. Image provided by the subject..

Amanda Hickman will join MuckRock as our first Chief Operating Officer. In this newly created role, she will oversee the expansion of MuckRock’s unique mix of software, services and reporting.

Hickman was most recently interim executive director at AIR, the Association of Independents in Radio, where she shaped the organization’s work on rates and fair practice. She has a long history working at the intersection of media, technology and civic participation, including as one of the first employees at DocumentCloud!  (DocumentCloud merged with MuckRock in 2018.)

She will oversee MuckRock’s personnel, operations and strategic initiatives, working closely with CEO Michael Morisy on the organization’s vision to build a stronger, more informed public.

“Amanda’s mix of creativity, purpose and action has improved journalism and the communities they serve in so many ways,” said Morisy. “I’ve turned to Amanda for inspiration and advice since MuckRock’s earliest days, and I’m excited to have her leadership as we expand our work.”

Hickman shared her enthusiasm about the new role by saying, “I’ve been an enormous fan of MuckRock since they first opened their beta – it is an honor to join the team. I’m looking forward to collaborating with the staff to ensure that MuckRock can continue to grow.”

Text excerpted from writing by Michael Morisy. Image via Amanda Hickman.

Read more about Hickman
The update 

▶ Reminder: catch us at conferences: This week, members of the MuckRock team will be in attendance at both the National Freedom of Information Summit (happening remotely, October 18-20) and the Science Writers conference (happening in Memphis, Tennessee, October 21-24). See last week's newsletter for more details!

▶ FOIA victory by the Washington Post reveals foreign hiring of military officials: More than 500 U.S. military personnel were hired by foreign countries — including Saudi Arabia, Libya, and the United Arab Emirates — according to a new investigation by the Washington Post. Nate Jones, FOIA director at the Post, shared a Twitter thread detailing how the newspaper won a two-year FOIA battle for public records from the Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy, and State Department. (Their strategy included a lot of lawsuits!)

FOIA finds  & top docs 

For The Record was written by Betsy Ladyzhets and edited by André Natta.

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