Forest fires leave behind charcoal—and it might be toxic for years

If you stand in the remains of a forest fire in a drizzle, even years after the burn, you can smell woodsmoke rising from the downed logs and charred stumps. The blackened remains might be hiding other things, too.

According to research published Friday in Nature Communications, Earth and Environment, that charred wood contains compounds that have recently been recognized to pose a serious health risk to humans. The environmental implications of those findings are unclear, since wildfires are key to so many ecosystems. But they could be important for understanding the environmental and health consequences of more frequent, intense fires on a warming planet.