Extreme heat wave and wildfires cause public health concerns in the Russian Federation

Wildfires that started in mid-July 2010 in the Central and Volga federal districts of the Russian Federation have produced a dense plume of smoke over hundreds of kilometres. The situation is aggravated by the continuing heat-wave.

According to the Ministry of Health and Social Development of the Russian Federation, fires are active in 22 regions of the country, and have killed 52 people and caused particularly difficult situations in Belgorod, Voronezh, Ivanovo, Lipetsk, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, Ryazan, Tambov regions, Mordovia and Chuvashia.

Close to the fires, smoke is a health risk because it contains small particles that can irritate the eyes and respiratory system and hazardous gases. Data from parts of the Moscow city air quality monitoring network in early August indicate that particulate matter (PM10) levels significantly exceed safe levels indicated in the WHO guidelines for outdoor and indoor air quality. Rospotrebnadzor, the Russian Agency for Consumer Rights and Human Well-being, warns that there is a significant excess of pollutants in the air, such as nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide, in several regions. 

Elderly people, people with cardiorespiratory diseases or who are chronically sick, children and outdoor workers are particularly vulnerable to the combined effects of heat-waves and air pollution.

The WHO Regional Office for Europe has been in contact with the authorities in the Russian Federation, including the Ministry of Health and Social Development, to offer technical assistance. In addition, the Office has prepared public health advice that describes the possible health effects of wildfire smoke and heat-waves and key ways for people to protect themselves and others.