Wildfire smoke health costs: a methods case study for a Southwestern US ‘mega-fire’

Exposure to wildfire smoke can increase morbidity in urban areas. Economists are increasingly calling for such health impacts to be included in wildfire damage assessments. However, collecting original health outcome data is costly and time-consuming. Benefits transfer is a more accessible alternative that is often employed. Yet several methodological issues remain unexplored regarding transfers of economic values and air quality concentration-response functions. Ignoring these issues may lead to misinformed wildfire policy based on inexact estimates of smoke-induced health costs. This research provides a case study illustration of a new air quality benefit transfer tool, the US EPA benefits mapping and analysis program-community edition (BenMAP-CE), which is used to estimate smoke damages of a Southwestern US ‘mega-fire’ event and investigate methodological issues surrounding the analyst's choice between transferring results from ‘wildfire-specific’ and ‘urban air’ (unrelated to wildfire) studies. Results indicate that the economic costs of wildfire smoke are substantial. Additionally, transfer of wildfire-specific study results produces substantially higher morbidity estimates and costs compared to use of results from urban air studies. These findings demonstrate (1) that BenMAP-CE can be applied to wildfire events and (2) the importance of transferred study appropriateness when conducting a smoke damage assessment using benefits transfer.