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After the wildfires

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After the deadly wildfires that destroyed Lahaina and parts of Kula in August 2023, affected residents are being asked to participate in a longitudinal study on the short- and long-term health effects of exposure to the fires’ impacts.

The UH research team is co-led by Economics Professor Ruben Juarez, the UH Economic Research Organization-HMSA Distinguished Professor of Health Economics, and Alika Maunakea a professor of epigenomics at the John A. Burns School of Medicine, Department of Anatomy, Biochemistry and Physiology, in partnership with several units at UH Mānoa.

Survey participants will undergo tests and have data collected on them to examine immediate exposures to environmental hazards. The tests will be repeated annually over the next five to 10 years, possibly longer, to link these exposures to long-term health outcomes.

“Insights from data collected are poised to steer the state of Hawaiʻi, local organizations and policymakers in resource optimization and intervention blueprinting, that altogether addresses imminent community needs, informs recovery, and supports the foundation for future disaster preparedness,” Juarez said.

The research team will partner with community-based organizations to recruit residents in an effort to build trust and demonstrate how their research will benefit the Maui communities impacted by the wildfires. They are hoping to sign up at least 1,000 people to participate in the study.

Using established methods, the team will conduct a survey on each resident, and then collect anthropometric data (BMI, blood pressure, spirometry, etc.), as well as saliva/buccal cells (cells found inside of the cheek) and urine to measure biomarkers of stress, such as inflammation, and exposures to toxicants, such as heavy metals, resulting from exposures to the wildfires.

To participate in this study, participants must be adults who resided or worked in the area affected by the wildfires in Maui in August 2023, and are expected to be in Hawaiʻi for at least five years. Register for an appointment at MauiWES.org.

This project is being funded through a $250,000 grant from the Hawaiʻi Community Foundation, and the researchers are seeking additional donors and funders to expand and support the cohort longitudinally.

See the full story at https://www.hawaii.edu/news/2023/12/22/maui-wildfire-health-study/.


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Ruben Juarez
Ruben Juarez