13:16 GMT +312 December 2018
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    A structure is seen engulfed in flames during the Camp Fire in Paradise

    ‘Insane:’ California Air Pollution Reaches 60x World Health Standards

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    The level of air pollution in California exceeded the “safe” levels set by the World Health Organization (WHO) about 60 times over last week after a series of wildfires in the state cumulatively burned nearly 250,000 acres and destroyed more than 12,000 homes and businesses.

    According to a Monday report by Bloomberg, particulates in the air in California were as high as 1,500 micrograms per cubic meter following the Camp and Woolsey wildfires. The blazes, named after their places of origin, are among 15 wildfires that broke out in California this month. 

    The safety threshold for air particulates set by the World Health Organization is 25 micrograms per cubic meter.

    "It is just insane," Rebecca Buchholz, a project scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, recently told Bloomberg. "It is quite amazing how high these fine-particulate levels are."

    Even though the pollution levels have since decreased in many areas, the particulate matter may continue to circulate in the air due to rain and smoldering. As of Monday, at least 20 California cities were labeled as having "unhealthy" air quality levels. Their residents were advised to stay indoors as much as possible to avoid breathing in the particles, which can cause problems from trouble breathing to long-term medical issues including heart and lung disease.

    "We're much more likely to see emergency room visits and hospital admissions go up, and we are also likely to see increases in the mortality in the population," Dr. Michael Jerrett, the chair of environmental health sciences at UCLA's Fielding School of Public Health, recently told CBS News. "And then if it's sustained over a long period of time, you know, months to years, you can begin to affect numerous major bodily systems that can lead to disease or premature death."

    "Once it gets past the air blood barrier in the lungs, it can go to almost any organ in the body, because it travels through the bloodstream," Professor Ed Avol, acting director of the Environmental Health Division in the University of Southern California Department of Preventive Medicine, also told CBS News this week.

    He added that the smoke contains a whole slew of chemicals. 

    "It's also homes and buildings and the plastics and the asphalt shingles and furniture and everything else that was in the homes that's now up in the air combusted. So there's lots of chemicals in the air," Avol noted.

    On Monday, California's Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said that authorities have managed to "tentatively" identify around 67 out of at least 79 victims of the fires. At the same time, the number of people believed missing in California stands at 993.

    "The insured loss for the Camp and Woolsey wildfires in California will be between USD $9 and $13 billion ($7.5-$10 billion for Camp; $1.5-$3 billion for Woolsey)," according to a Monday press release by RMS, an analytics firm that works with companies to evaluate catastrophe risks.

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    smoke, pollution, World Health Organization, California
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