Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Article
  • Published:

Population exposure to fine particles and estimated excess mortality in Finland from an East European wildfire episode


Long-range transported particulate matter (PM) air pollution episodes associated with wildfires in the Eastern Europe are relatively common in Southern and Southeastern Finland. In severe cases such as in August–September 2002, the reduced visibility and smell of the smoke, and symptoms such as irritation of eyes and airways experienced by the population raise the issue into the headlines. Because PM air pollution, in general, has been identified as a major health risk, and the exposures are of repeating nature, the issue warrants a risk assessment to estimate the magnitude of the problem. The current work uses the available air quality data in Finland to estimate population exposures caused by one of the worst episodes experienced in this decade. This episode originated from wildfires in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and the Baltic countries. The populations of 11 Southern Finnish provinces were exposed between 26 August and 8 September 2002, for 2 weeks to an additional population-weighted average PM2.5 level of 15.7 μg/m3. Assuming similar effect on mortality for these particles as observed in epidemiological time series studies on urban particles (0.5%–2% increase in mortality per 10 μg/m3, central estimate 1%), this exposure level would be associated with 9–34 cases (17 cases central estimate) of additional mortality. Epidemiological evidence specific to particles from biomass combustion is scarce, affecting also the reliability of the current risk assessment. Do the wildfire aerosols exhibit the same level of toxicity as the urban particles? To shed light on this question, it is interesting to look at the exposure data in relationship to the observed daily mortality in Finland, even though the limited duration of the episode allows only for a weak statistical power. The percentage increases observed (0.8%–2.1% per 10 μg/m3 of fine PM) are in line with the more general estimates for urban PM and those used in the current risk assessment.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4

Similar content being viewed by others


  • Anderson H.R., Bremner S.A., Atkinson R.W., Harrison R.M., and Walters S. Particulate matter and daily mortality and hospital admissions in the west midlands conurbation of the United Kingdom: associations with fine and coarse particles, black smoke and sulphate. Occup Environ Med 2001: 58 (8): 504–510.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Bannikov M.V., Umarova A.B., and Butylkina M.A. Fires on drained peat soils of Russia — causes and effects. Int Forest Fire N 2003: 28: 29–32.

    Google Scholar 

  • Barregard L., Sällsten G., Gustafson P., Andersson L., Johansson L., Basu S., and Stigendal L. Experimental exposure to wood-smoke particles in healthy humans: effects on markers of inflammation, coagulation, and lipid peroxidation. Inhal Toxicol 2006: 18 (11): 845–853.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Boman B.C., Forsberg A.B., and Järvholm B.G. Adverse health effects from ambient air pollution in relation to residential wood combustion in modern society. Scand J Work Environ Health 2003: 29 (4): 251–260.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Brauer M., and Hisham-Hashim J. Fires in Indonesia: crisis and reaction. Environ Sci Technol 1998: 32: 404A–407A.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Chubarova N., Prilepsky N., Riebau A., Shoettle A., Musselman R., Uliumdzhieva N., Yurova A., Potter B., Rublev A., Zhmylev P., and Karpuhina E. A natural fire experiment in Central Russia: meteorology, radiative and optical properties of atmosphere and resulting effects in sub-boreal forest plants. 5th Symposium on Fire and Forest Meteorology Joint with 2nd International Wildland Fire Ecology and Fire Management Congress, Orlando, FL, November 16–20, 2003. American Meteorological Society, Boston, MA, 2003 Available at

    Google Scholar 

  • Davidenko E.P., and Eritsov A. The Wildland Fire Season 2002 in the Russian Federation: report of the Aerial Forest Fire Service Avialesookhrana. Int Forest Fire N 2003: 28: 15–17.

    Google Scholar 

  • EC. Proposal for a directive of the European parliament and of the council on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe. Brussels, September 21, 2005, COM (2005) 447 final, 2005/0183 (COD). Available at, accessed on 14 June 2007.

  • Emmanuel S. Impact to lung health of haze from forest fires: the Singapore experience. Respirology 2000: 5 (2): 175–182.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Goldammer J.G. The Wildland Fire Season 2002 in the Russian Federation: an assessment by the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC). Int Forest Fire N 2003: 28: 2–14.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hales S., Salmond C., Town G., Kjellström T., and Woodward A. Daily mortality in relation to weather and air pollution in Christchurch, New Zealand. Aust Nz J Publ Heal 2000: 24 (1): 89–91.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Jalava P., Salonen R.O., Hälinen A., Penttinen P., Pennanen A., Sillanpää M., Sandell E., Hillamo R., and Hirvonen M.-R. In vitro inflammatory and cytotoxic effects of size-segregated particulate samples collected during long-range transport of wildfire smoke to Helsinki. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 2006: 215: 341–353.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Johnston F.H., Baile R.S., Pilotto L.S., and Hanigan I.C. Ambient biomass smoke and cardio-respiratory hospital admissions in Darwin, Australia. BMC Public Health 2007: 7: 240.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Koistinen K., Edwards R., Mathys P., Ruuskanen J., Künzli N., and Jantunen M. Sources of PM2.5 in personal exposures and residential indoor, outdoor and workplace microenvironments in EXPOLIS-Helsinki, Finland. Scand J Work Environ Health 2004: 30 (Suppl 2): 36–46.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Mott J., Mannino D., Alverson C., Kiyu A., Hashim J., Lee T., Falter K., and Redd S. Cardiorespiratory hospitalizations associated with smoke exposure during the 1997 Southeast Asian forest fires. Int J Hyg Environ Health 2005: 208 (1–2): 75–85.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Naeher L.P., Brauer M., Lipsett M., Zelikoff J.T., Simpson C.D., Koenig J.Q., and Smith K.R. Woodsmoke health effects: a review. Inhal Toxicol 2007: 19: 67–106.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Niemi J.V., Saarikoski S., Aurela M., Tervahattu H., Hillamo R., Luoto T., Aarnio P., Koskentalo T., Makkonen U., Martikainen J., Vehkamäki H., Hussein T., and Kulmala M. Pienhiukkasten kaukokulkeumaepisodit Etelä-Suomessa jaksolla 1999–2005. YTV Pääkaupunkiseudun julkaisusarja PJS B 2006: 18. ISBN 951-798-614-9. Available at Finnish; a documentation page in English and in Swedish).

  • Niemi J.V., Tervahattu H., Vehkamaki H., Martikainen J., Laakso L., Kulmala M., Aarnio P., Koskentalo T., Sillanpaa M., and Makkonen U. Characterization of aerosol particle episodes in Finland caused by wildfires in Eastern Europe. Atmos Chem Phys 2005: 5: 2299–2310.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Peters A., Skorkovsky J., Kotesovec F., Brynda J., Spix C., Wichmann H.E., and Heinrich J. Associations between mortality and air pollution in Central Europe. Environ Health Perspect 2000: 108: 283–287.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Pope C.A., and Dockery D. Health effects of fine particulate air pollution: lines that connect. J Air Waste Manag Assoc 2006: 56: 709–742.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Sastry N. Forest fires, air pollution, and mortality in Southeast Asia. Demography 2002: 39 (1): 1–23.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schwela D.H., Goldammer J.G., Morawska L.H., and Simpson O., (Eds.). Health Guidelines for Vegetation Fire Events. World Health Organization, Geneva, 1999.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sillanpää M., Saarikoski S., Hillamo R., Pennanen A., Makkonen U., Spolnik Z., Van Grieken R., Koskentalo T., and Salonen R.O. Chemical composition, mass size distribution and source analysis of long-range transported wildfire smokes in Helsinki. Sci Tot Environ 2005: 350: 119–135.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Vallius M., Lanki T., Tiittanen P., Koistinen K., Ruuskanen J., and Pekkanen J. Source apportionment of urban ambient PM2.5 in two successive measurement campaigns in Helsinki, Finland. Atmos Environ 2003: 37 (5): 615–623.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Vedal S., and Dutton S. Wildfire air pollution and daily mortality in a large urban area. Environ Res 2006: 102: 29–35.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Westerling A.L., Hidalgo H.G., Cayan D.R., and Swetnam T.W. Warming and earlier spring increase Western U.S. forest wildfire activity. Environ Sci Technol 2006: 313: 940–943.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • WHO. Meta-analysis of time-series studies and panel studies of particulate matter (PM) and ozone (O3). Task Group Report, 80pp. World Health Organization, Copenhagen, Denmark, 2004. Available at, accessed on 5 February 2008.

  • WHO. World Health Organisation Air Quality Guidelines, Global Update 2005. 484pp. World Health Organization, Copenhagen, 2006 Available at, accessed on 14 June 2007.

  • Wichmann H.-E., Spix C., Tuch T., Wölke G., Peters A., Heinrich J., Kreyling W.G., and Heyder J. Daily mortality and fine and ultrafine particles in Erfurt, Germany. Part I: Role of particle number and particle mass. Health Effects Institute Research Reports, no. 098, 104pp. 2000. Available at

Download references


We thank the Helsinki Metropolitan Area Council (YTV) and the environmental offices of the cities of Kuopio and Lappeenranta for providing us with the air quality monitoring data, the Finnish Meteorological Institute for air quality data from the other cities and IC analysis of the PM2.5 filters, and Juhani Tarhanen from the University of Kuopio for data on VOC concentrations. Diane Davies and Minnie Wong from the Department of Geography, University of Maryland provided numerical MODIS fire mapping data combining the West and East European Regions. We are thankful also for Peter Wåhlin from the Danish National Environmental Research Institute (NERI) for providing information on the assessment of the episode in Denmark. This work has been supported by intramural funding in KTL.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Otto O Hänninen.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Hänninen, O., Salonen, R., Koistinen, K. et al. Population exposure to fine particles and estimated excess mortality in Finland from an East European wildfire episode. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 19, 414–422 (2009).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


This article is cited by


Quick links