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Prescribed burns are good for forest health. They recycle nutrients into the soil to promote new vegetation, improve wildlife habitat, and reduce fuels that could contribute to much more severe fires during the hot, dry and windy times of the year. But are prescribed burns good for human health?

U.S. Forest Service fire crews conduct a controlled burn in Oak Creek Canyon in January 2004.In a recent study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, researchers found alkaloids — common plant toxins — in the smoke created from burning Ponderosa pines. Smoke-related alkaloids have the potential to affect human health as well as aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and may even affect the way clouds form.

The study was conducted by scientists to better understand the environmental impact of smoke from forest fires by studying which molecules are actually contained in smoke. Researchers have only recently developed the technology to detect alkaloids when mixed with similar molecules. Alkaloids are poisons used by plants to protect themselves from other plants and animals, including humans.

For the full story, see the Friday, April 12, edition of the Sedona Red Rock News.

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