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‘Second Opinion,’ Episode 5: Wildfires

“Second Opinion,” a new discussion series produced by L.A. Times Studios in conjunction with the Los Angeles Times newsroom, takes you to the forefront of medical research and conversations about health, science and technology.

‘Second Opinion,’ Episode 5: Wildfires

Our fifth episode of “Second Opinion” examines the public health impact of wildfires. For this discussion, Los Angeles Times Executive Chairman Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong is joined by the University of Montana’s Chris Migliaccio, a professor of immunology, and Vanessa Silemovic, a postdoctoral researcher in atmospheric chemistry. Migliaccio’s work examines the effect of wildfire smoke on the human respiratory system, and Silemovic studies the composition of smoke, a field that is growing in importance as fire seasons become longer and more intense in the western United States. Also joining the discussion will be Kaiser Health News Montana correspondent Katheryn Houghton, who covers healthcare. Earlier in the episode we’ll hear from Northern California farm and vineyard owners whose businesses were affected by the recent fires.

Chris Migliaccio is research associate professor at the University of Montana. He specializes in the cellular and molecular mechanics of the body’s immune system and the immune response to contaminants in the environment. He is the lead author of a study tracking lung function among a community in Montana that was exposed to 49 days of wildfire smoke after a series of fires in 2017. The study is among the first to show a long-term effect of wildfire smoke exposure.

Vanessa Silemovic is an atmospheric chemist and postdoctoral research associate at the University of Montana, where she studies the composition of wildfire smoke. As part of a team at the university, she has helped to identify more than 150 gases in wildfire smoke, many of them toxic. Her data are used by the federal government to assess air quality.

Katheryn Houghton is Montana correspondent at Kaiser Health News, where she covers healthcare. She has been a fellow of the Assn. of Health Care Journalists, and a grant winner from the Solutions Journalism Network. Houghton spent the earlier part of her career at Montana news organizations, including the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.