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Wildfire Smoke Is Hurting Pregnant People And Babies. Can California Cities Protect Them?

Tania Pacheco-Werner put on her walking shoes. She was halfway through her first pregnancy and had just been diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Her doctor’s advice? Stay active.

But Pacheco-Werner lives just outside Fresno. It was summer, and well over 100 degrees. The air outside was also thick with wildfire smoke from nearby forest fires — an increasingly common occurrence due to climate change.

The expectant mother wanted to do everything right, but was getting conflicting advice. On the one hand, she needed to walk and stay active to prevent complications from gestational diabetes; on the other, public health messaging about wildfires told her to stay inside and reduce her exposure to the smoke. So, what did she do?

Pacheco-Werner went to Walmart. Every day, her husband drove her to the nearby superstore so she could walk around and exercise indoors where the air felt cool and clean thanks to air-conditioning and filtration.

Her doctors hadn’t instructed her to come up with this solution. In fact, her doctors never advised her about the potential effects of wildfire smoke on her pregnancy. But Pacheco-Werner holds a PhD in medical sociology, is the co-director of the Central Valley Health Policy Institute, and also serves on the Board of the California Air Resources Board for the San Joaquin Valley. She had been closely following a growing body of scientific literature about the impacts of wildfire smoke on preterm birth and adverse birth outcomes.

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