Wildfire Smoke Is Terrible For You But What Does It Do to Cows?

California’s wildfire season has kicked off in earnest, with the Oak Fire chewing extraordinarily quickly through the parched landscape around Yosemite National Park. The fire has burned nearly 17,000 acres so far, forcing thousands from their homes and blanketing the surrounding area in smoke.

For millions of years, the creatures of Earth have dealt with wildfire smoke, a noxious blend of particulate matter and toxic gasses. They’ve had to, really: Lightning ignites wildfires, and occasional small blazes actually result in a net benefit by resetting the ecosystem for new growth.

No longer. A variety of factors—including climate change, a history of fire suppression, and growing human populations—have conspired to turn what were once mild blazes into monsters like the Oak Fire. And that means more smoke, and longer exposure to gasses like carbon monoxide and dioxide, benzene, formaldehyde, and ozone. It also increases exposure to the soot carried in the cloud, which can contain solids like lead, cadmium, and polyaromatic hydrocarbons.

Scientists know how this smoke affects human health, exacerbating asthma and other respiratory problems, but they know almost nothing about other species. As wildfires grow bigger and more intense, researchers are racing to figure out how birds, nonhuman primates, and livestock might be suffering—and the early results are troubling.

In 2020, Amy Skibiel, an animal scientist at the University of Idaho, monitored a group of 13 cows between the state’s July to October fire season. She and her team scrutinized carbon dioxide and mineral concentrations in the cows’ blood, their respiration rates and temperatures, and the quantity of milk they were producing. “The big question was: What effects does wildfire smoke exposure have on dairy cattle production, immune status, and metabolism?” says Skibiel. “Most humans can retreat from conditions of poor air quality, whereas livestock are housed in open-air barns, or they’re out on pasture or on dirt lots. They’re exposed 24/7 to the prevailing environmental conditions.”

Skibiel found that a particularly smoky day could cause a loss of 9 pounds of milk per cow. (A cow usually produces 70 to 80 pounds per day, so this is a significant dip.) “Another interesting thing that we found was that milk yield was reduced for seven days after their last day of exposure,” says Skibiel. “So even when the smoke dissipates, there’s still lingering effects. And we don’t really know how long that lasts.”

More frequent smoky days in the western US might already be eating into milk yields, and Skibiel’s team is working with dairy farmers to parse whether that is happening. The team will have to carefully isolate other complicating factors—high temperatures and humidity also lower milk production, for instance. But wildfire smoke could actually be conspiring with heat to lower yields: Fires are more likely to break out on hotter days, when vegetation is parched. Smoke plus heat may equal even less milk. Skibiel also found changes in immune cell populations in the cows’ blood, suggesting their bodies were responding to the respiratory pollution.

Other animals on the farm, too, may be vulnerable to wildfire smoke. Horses have massive lungs—the animals are born to run and suck in loads of air in the process. “We don’t know for sure, but horses could be one of the most sensitive species to smoke of all mammals,” says Kent E. Pinkerton, director of the Center for Health and the Environment at the University of California, Davis. “The volume of air that they’re taking in, that is basically laden with particles in the air that they’re breathing, could really be quite devastating to the horse.”

The infamous 2018 Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise, bathed the UC Davis campus in smoke, giving Pinkerton and his colleagues a unique opportunity to determine the effects on another species: the rhesus macaque. At the campus’ California National Primate Research Center, the macaques live in outdoor enclosures. So just as Skibiel did with dairy cows, Pinkerton could monitor them as the haze rolled in.

He found an increase in miscarriage during the breeding season, which happened to overlap with the smoke event: 82 percent of the animals exposed to smoke gave birth, when in a normal year the average rate of live births is between 86 and 93 percent. “We actually had a small, but statistically significant, reduction in birth outcomes,” says Pinkerton. “We don’t know all the specifics of it, or what the precise cause would be, other than the fact that it was associated with wildfire smoke.”

In Indonesia, which is plagued with peat fires, primatologist and ecologist Wendy Erb of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has studied smoke’s effect on another primate, the orangutan. Peat fires have created a dire public health crisis in Indonesia, where developers drain peatlands and set them on fire to create farmland. This is a particularly nasty kind of conflagration, as it smolders through carbon-rich fuel for months on end, bathing cities and surrounding forests in smoke for far longer than, say, a California wildfire that rips through vegetation.

Erb monitors individual orangutans in the wild by collecting urine and stool samples (yes, that means standing under trees to catch the stuff) and following them around throughout the day to see how much they’re eating and how much energy they’re expending. From the urine samples, she can determine ketosis, or whether the animal is metabolizing fat as an energy source.

Following smoke events, she found, ketosis among orangutans increased significantly. “We actually saw that they were eating more calories, but despite eating more calories they’re also resting more, and they traveled shorter distances,” says Erb. “So they’re showing this energy-conservation strategy—they’re moving less, they’re slowing down, and they’re eating more calories—but they’re still going into ketosis.” 

One hypothesis, which the team hasn’t yet tested, is that the orangutan’s bodies are mounting an immune response to the deluge of smoke, and that they need more calories to fuel that defense. But this might use up calories the animals need for other life necessities, like growing, reproducing, and feeding their offspring. (Of all the primates, orangutan mothers spend the most time raising their children.) Saving energy by moving less also means fewer opportunities to socialize, which is a concern for a primate that’s already critically endangered because it’s losing its habitat to deforestation.

Erb has related concern: These unnatural fires happen year after year after year, so orangutans in the wild are exposed to chronic smoke inhalation. Erb has found that the vocalizations of orangutans exposed to smoke change, just like a human smoker’s voice changes over time. Might that affect how the animals communicate in the wild? If the animals’ voices grow hoarse, for example, they may not be able to communicate as far.

“For a long time, people weren’t thinking about how widespread and how massive the effects of the smoke itself could be, even for animals that are lucky enough to be in forest that doesn’t get burned,” says Erb. “You could still be hundreds of kilometers away from the nearest fire and experience really low air quality.”

Orangutans don’t have the means to flee the haze, but surely birds do? Nope, not anymore. When fires are small, birds can detect those blazes and fly a few miles away, no problem. But wildfires have gotten so big that animals can’t even escape the flames fast enough, much less the smoke—the 2019-2020 Australian bushfires moved so quickly that they consumed anything with wings.

Part of the problem is smoke inhalation: Bad air can confuse birds, potentially steering them into the flames instead of to safety. “Carbon monoxide poisoning, if it doesn’t result in fatality, can also cause confusion. It can cause disorientation,” says Olivia V. Sanderfoot, an ecologist at the University of California, Los Angeles who studies the effect of wildfire smoke on animals. “So there’s also this concern that maybe even if they have the capacity to escape a fire, maybe they don’t because they can’t quite figure out how to get away, because they are not feeling well.”

Consider the actual canary in the coal mine: The birds are so sensitive to carbon monoxide that miners would bring them underground as an early warning system. If the animal became ill, so soon would they. But wildfire smoke is more complex than subterranean air—it’s burning through plants, soils, and even towns, where it consumes plastics and other building materials. “Wildfire smoke is this whole sticky soup of nastiness,” says Sanderfoot. “It contains a lot of different toxins, and depending on what’s burning and at what concentrations and then what the weather looks like, the smoke is going to be very different.”

That makes it exceedingly difficult to determine what in the smoke is causing a particular effect in a particular species, be it a cow, horse, bird, or primate. And the problem will only get worse, as the world warms and blazes become more catastrophic, bathing more of the planet in smoke. “These fires that we’re seeing now are far more intense and far more fast-moving and result in more severe damage,” says Sanderfoot. “And that kind of event is not something that animals are necessarily going to be able to successfully detect, avoid, and escape.”


Source: Wildfire Smoke Is Terrible for You. But What Does It Do to Cows? | WIRED

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Ozone Layer, Lauded Climate Success Story, Threatened by Wildfires

Wildfire smoke may slow progress on one of the most widely hailed climate success stories: healing the ozone layer.

In the 1980s, researchers discovered that a class of household chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were eating a hole in the ozone layer, which protects Earth from cancer-causing radiation. A 10% decrease in ozone levels would result in an additional 300,000 skin-cancer cases worldwide, according to a World Health Organization estimate.

World governments banded together to phase CFCs out of household products, like refrigerators and hairspray, when they signed the Montreal Protocol in 1987. CFC emissions fell, and the ozone hole over the Antarctic began to close. Now the ozone layer is on track to fully recover by 2060, according to a scientific assessment from the United Nations and the World Meteorological Association.

But an unexpected new threat — wildfire smoke — might slow that recovery, a pair of recent studies suggest. Researchers discovered that Australia’s “Black Summer” wildfires in late 2019 and early 2020 created a cloud of smoke so large that it rose into the stratosphere, circled the southern hemisphere, and triggered a chain of chemical reactions that destroyed ozone.

“Smoke was not supposed to do this,” Peter Bernath, an atmospheric chemist at the University of Waterloo, who co-authored one of the studies and led the other, told Insider. “It was completely unexpected that smoke made these atmospheric changes. So this is new chemistry.”

The smoke was associated with a 1% decrease in ozone at southern midlatitudes in March 2020, according to calculations in one of the studies, published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. One percent may sound small, but it’s significant, considering the ozone layer is rebuilding itself by about 1-3% every decade.

The second study found that the smoke led to a rise in compounds, like hypochlorous acid, which react with ozone molecules to break them apart. Researchers aren’t sure how the smoke causes an increase in these reactive compounds, but they are confident that this is what caused the ozone levels to dip in March 2020. That paper was published in the journal Science on Thursday.

Within about nine months, the smoke had cleared from the stratosphere, and ozone had recovered to pre-wildfire levels. But the researchers suspect that other major wildfire events, like the 2017 and 2020 blazes across the Pacific Northwest, could have a similar ozone-depleting effect.

Smoke probably won’t undo the ozone layer’s healing, Bernath said, but it could slow it down. In recent global climate and wildfire reports, the United Nations warned that fires will become more frequent and more severe as global temperatures rise. That could mean more enormous smoke clouds that reach into the stratosphere and destroy ozone.

“As severe wildfires increase in number, they will play an increasingly important role in the global ozone budget,” Bernath’s study concludes.

Australia had the first ‘super outbreak’ of fire-driven thunderstorms

When wildfires burn hot enough, under the right conditions, their smoke creates its own weather. It billows up into anvil-shaped thunderstorms called pyrocumulonimbus clouds, or “pyroCbs” for short.

Smoke cools and expands as it quickly rises miles high, allowing water vapor to condense on the ash particles and create a cloud sitting atop the smoke column. The fires below fuel hot updrafts that sustain the thunderstorm and funnel smoke into the upper atmosphere, like a chimney.

That’s what happened above Australia in the final months of 2019 and beginning of 2020. As fires consumed about 50 million acres of land, they created about 38 pyrocumulonimbus clouds, which persisted for days.

More than half of those clouds reached the stratosphere, according to research led by David Peterson, a meteorologist who studies pyrocumulonimbus clouds at the Naval Research Laboratory.

“That’s why we refer to it as the first pyroCb super outbreak,” Peterson, who is not affiliated with the new studies on ozone, told Insider.

It’s unclear how often fires will shoot ozone-destroying smoke into the stratosphere

Pyrocumulonimbus clouds that reach into the stratosphere could become more common as the climate warms, but for now, that’s hard to forecast.

“It’s not just the fire. You need a certain atmospheric condition that allows for the thunderstorm to develop,” Peterson said, adding, “Just because you have more wildfires doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get more pyroCbs. It’s really, how often do you have this synergy of the weather and the fire at the same time?”

That’s an area of ongoing research — a “frontier topic,” in Peterson’s words. Nobody knows the future of wildfire-smoke storms and their ozone-destroying potential.

Bernath and his colleagues aren’t even sure how wildfire smoke leads to compounds that react with ozone. They think that the hydrated, acidic surface of the smoke particles triggers chemical reactions that wouldn’t otherwise take place in the stratosphere, creating new compounds.

“The smoke particles have a reactive surface, and that surface catalyzes this chemistry that destroys the ozone,” Bernath said, adding, “So we kind of know what the smoke is doing. And we have some clue what the surface of the smoke particles looks like. But we don’t actually know what particular reactions are taking place on the surface.”

Laboratory research that inserts smoke particles into a stratosphere-like environment, and documents ensuing chemical reactions, could fill in the blanks.

Bernath and his colleagues are also studying satellite data from the fires that engulfed the West Coast of the US and Canada in 2020. Those blazes created pyrocumulonimbus clouds, and Bernath suspects that smoke had its own effect on ozone levels.

“This field of research into pyroCbs and their effects is relatively new, especially compared to other types of wildfire impacts,” Peterson said, adding, “We learn a lot, but then we get a lot of new questions.”


Source: Ozone Layer, Lauded Climate Success Story, Threatened by Wildfires


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You can’t see particles smaller than 2.5 microns. But they kill 3.4 million people a year. Climate change is going to have profound consequences on human health and survival. Most obviously, a hotter world means more heat stroke and other heat-caused deaths.

A recent study on the mortality cost of climate change found that every 4,434 metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted — about the combined lifetime emissions of 3.5 Americans, the study estimates — will cause a heat-related death this century.

But the situation is even worse than that number suggests. Danny Bressler, the environmental economist who authored the paper, notes his estimate leaves out some other potential climate-related deaths, like those from flooding and reduced food supply. He’s just estimating what higher temperatures alone will do, writing that he “does not consider likely mortality co-benefits of stricter climate policies, such as decreases in particulate matter pollution.”

That’s a technical way of putting it. Here’s a simpler way: When we burn fossil fuels, not all the resulting pollution goes up high into the atmosphere. Some of it accumulates in the air that we breathe every day.

And it kills us. A lot of us. The Global Burden of Disease study, a common benchmark for public health work, estimates that 3.4 million people die prematurely every year due to air pollution. More recent research puts the total even higher, at 10 million a year. A recent paper suggested that 90 percent of the world’s population lives in areas with air pollution higher than World Health Organization guidelines (guidelines that the organization itself is toughening).

The particles in question here are invisible to the naked eye — but their effects are anything wood


The public health threat of particulate matter

This problem goes by a lot of different names — “air pollution,” “low air quality,” “PM 2.5 pollution” — but it is directly tied to our climate problem.

Burning fossil fuels, in a car or steel mill or power plant, produces carbon dioxide and methane, but it also produces other pollutants. The term “PM 2.5” refers to particles smaller than 2.5 microns (or 0.0025 millimeters — tinier than a grain of sand) suspended in the air. Sometimes colloquially called “soot,” PM 2.5 usually comes from burning stuff: wood in fireplaces, propane in generators, coal in power plants, and gasoline in cars.

But PM 2.5 pollution doesn’t just emanate from controlled combustion. Fossil fuels also contribute to PM 2.5 emissions indirectly: Global warming is increasing the frequency and severity of wildfires, which subject people to huge quantities of particulate matter. The largest wildfire in California’s history, the Camp Fire of 2018, led PM 2.5 levels in the nearby city of Chico to increase by about 12 times the EPA limit.

This all matters because PM 2.5 emissions are extremely deadly. Because PM 2.5 particles are so small, they can easily reach the lungs and even the bloodstream, and long-term exposure can cause a variety of serious health problems, like lung cancer, emphysema, strokes, heart attacks, and cognitive decline.

And we have very good causal evidence that high levels of exposure to PM 2.5 pollution lead to a decline in overall health and life expectancy. Some of the early convincing evidence came from the US, particularly an influentialSix Cities Study” released in 1993. That study found significant relationships between levels of air pollution and overall mortality, driven by higher rates of lung cancer and other lung diseases and heart disease.

A more recent and methodologically strong set of research has focused on China, specifically its “Huai River policy” instituted in the 1950s. The Chinese Communist government had promised free heating in wintertime as a new state-provided benefit, but lacked the resources to offer the benefit nationally. Instead, it only gave free or heavily subsidized coal for heating to households north of the Huai River. The Huai roughly bisects eastern China; Beijing is several hundred miles to its north, and Shanghai slightly to its south.

That meant communities north of the river were exposed to much more particulate pollution from burning coal than communities to the south. Retrospective work comparing lifespans above and below the Huai River suggested that these emissions were incredibly deadly, directly reducing life expectancy by five and a half years for people north of the river compared to those living south of it.

Air pollution is costing millions of lives — and more

Worldwide pollution isn’t quite as bad as it was north of the Huai, but it’s not great either. The University of Chicago’s Air Quality Life Index, which regularly estimates the human toll of particulate pollution, this fall issued a report estimating that the average person on Earth loses 2.2 years of life expectancy due to particulate pollution, compared to a scenario in which every country followed WHO guidelines.

“Alcohol use reduces life expectancy by 9 months; unsafe water and sanitation, 7 months; HIV/AIDS, 4 months; malaria, 3 months; and conflict and terrorism, just 7 days,” researchers Ken Lee and Michael Greenstone write in the report. “Thus, the impact of particulate pollution on life expectancy is comparable to that of smoking, almost three times that of alcohol and drug use and unsafe water, five times that of HIV/AIDS, and 114 times that of conflict and terrorism.”

By their count, lowering air pollution levels below those specified in WHO guidelines would enable people currently alive to enjoy 17 billion more years on Earth, collectively.

And that’s a relatively conservative figure. Shortly after the report’s release, the World Health Organization set stricter guidelines for particulate pollution. Its prior standard, undergirding the UChicago analysis, was that particulate concentration in the air we breathe should be kept to under 10 micrograms (µg, or a millionth of a gram) per cubic meter of air. The new threshold, developed due to evidence that even lower concentrations can be harmful to human health, is half that: 5 µg/m³.

Cutting global air pollution down to that new, lower threshold would save even more millions of life-years.

And the harms of particulate pollution are not limited to life expectancy. Patrick Collison, the entrepreneur and cofounder of Stripe, has taken a research interest in this topic and has a useful compendium of recent work on air pollution harms. Among the studies he highlights:

  • A very small increase in particulate pollution (specifically an increase in PM 2.5 concentration of 1µg/m³) causes, by one estimate, a 0.8 percent reduction in GDP that year, mostly because air pollution increases absenteeism and reduces productivity.
  • Alzheimer’s diagnoses triple when long-term air pollution exposure is substantially increased (by 10 µg/m³). Parkinson’s and dementia diagnoses increase too.
  • Air pollution reduces cognitive functioning in young people. Applying US air pollution standards to China would substantially raise test scores on both reading and math in the latter country, from the median to the 63rd and 58th percentiles respectively.
  • Chess players, baseball umpires, and stock traders all perform worse at their jobs when exposed to more air pollution. Those jobs are unusually easy to quantify, but it stands to reason that people’s performance at other jobs suffers too.

Even if air pollution doesn’t kill you, it probably impedes your cognitive functioning, makes you poorer, and increases your susceptibility to brutal diseases like Alzheimer’s.

How combating climate change can extend life expectancy

Air pollution is a tough problem, but the good news is that we can help solve it by solving another tough problem. Actions to combat global warming can also dramatically cut air pollution deaths.

In 2018, a team of earth scientists at Duke and Columbia universities modeled what would happen to air pollution deaths if the world actually acted to confront climate change. They considered a scenario where 180 fewer gigatons of CO2 are emitted by 2100. That’s roughly the reductions needed to keep warming to 2ºC or below — the goal of the Paris climate agreement.

If we reduce emissions that much, we would prevent about 110 million to 196 million premature deaths by 2100. Averaged over the 80-year period the paper considers, that’s 1.4 million to 2.5 million deaths per year averted. (The improvements would need time to take effect, so more lives would be saved later in the century than in the next 10 years or so.)

The good news is that governments have regulatory levers for reducing air pollution deaths — and some are pulling them. The UChicago Air Quality Life Index report estimates that since 2013, China has reduced air pollution by 29 percent, for an average lifespan extension of 1.5 years for each of its citizens (assuming there’s no backsliding on pollution).

The passage of a stronger version of the Clean Air Act in the US, similarly, was followed by a 50 percent reduction in particulate pollution between 1970 and 1979, aided by a slow economy. Economists Kenneth Chay and Michael Greenstone have estimated that the Clean Air Act caused an immediate and sharp decline in infant mortality in the US.

By their figures, some 1,300 fewer infants died in 1972 than would have if the Clean Air Act amendments of 1970 hadn’t passed. What’s more, research from economists Adam Isen, Maya Rossin-Slater, and W. Reed Walker suggests that the Clean Air Act amendments led children to have higher earnings as adults than they would have had if they’d been exposed to prior levels of pollution.

There are also things you can do at an individual level to mitigate your air pollution intake. My colleague Rebecca Leber wrote about a tool that lets you investigate air quality where you live, and you can help prevent emissions from harming yourself or your loved ones with an electric air purifier (I have two running in my apartment).

But air pollution is not an individual problem, any more than climate change is. The long-term solutions involve setting much stricter regulations or higher taxes targeting particulate emissions, and replacing common sources like coal plants with solar, nuclear, or wind power.

The Biden administration is moving in the right direction. The Environmental Protection Agency, under Biden’s appointee Michael Regan, is reviewing its air quality standards, last reevaluated in 2012, in response to “the strong body of scientific evidence [which] shows that long- and short-term exposures to fine particles (PM2.5) can harm people’s health, leading to heart attacks, asthma attacks, and premature death.” A scientific panel at the EPA has signaled support for lowering the amount of PM 2.5 allowed in the air by as much as a third.

But this is also a global problem that hits the developing world even harder. Spreading green tech to emerging economies like India and Brazil is not just a climate necessity. It’s a public health necessity too.

Dylan Matthews

Source: How humans could live two years longer: Cut air pollution – Vox


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IRS Provides Tax Relief for Victims of Hurricane Ida

Hurricane Ida, which began on August 26, barreled through the state of Louisiana and has left millions without power and much of Louisiana in a state of disaster. If you were impacted by Hurricane Ida we want you to know TurboTax is here for you, and we want to keep you up to date with important tax relief information that may help you in this time of need.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared the recent events as a disaster and the IRS announced that victims of the hurricane that occurred in Louisiana now have until January 3, 2022 to file various individual and business tax returns and make certain tax payments. Currently, this includes the entire state of Louisiana, but taxpayers in Ida-impacted localities designated by FEMA in neighboring states will automatically receive the same filing and payment relief.

What are the extended tax and payment deadlines for victims of Hurricane Ida?

The tax relief postpones various tax filing and payment deadlines that occurred starting on August 26, 2021. As a result, affected individuals and businesses will have until January 3, 2022 to file returns and pay any taxes that were originally due during this period. These include:

Your resource on tax filing
Tax season is here! Check out the Tax Center on AOL Finance for all the tips and tools you need to maximize your return.
  • 2020 Individual and Business Returns with Valid Extensions: Individuals that had a valid extension to file their 2020 return due to run out on October 15, 2021 will now have until January 3, 2022 to file. Businesses with extensions also have until January 3, 2022 including, among others, calendar-year corporations whose 2020 extensions run out on October 15, 2021. The IRS noted that because tax payments related to 2020 returns were due on May 17, 2021, those payments are not eligible for an extension.
  • 2020 Quarterly Estimated Tax Payments: 2021 quarterly estimated tax payments with a deadline of September 15, 2021 have been extended until January 3, 2022.
  • Quarterly Payroll and Excise Tax Returns: Quarterly payroll and excise tax returns that are normally due on November 1, 2021, are also extended until January 3, 2022. In addition, penalties on payroll and excise tax deposits due on or after August 26 and before September 10 will be abated as long as the deposits were made by September 10, 2021.

Calendar-year tax-exempt organizations, operating on a calendar-year basis that have a valid 2020 tax return extension due to run out on November 15, 2021 also qualify for the extra time.

What do I need to do to claim the tax extension?

The IRS automatically provides filing and penalty relief to any taxpayer with an IRS address of record located in the disaster area. Taxpayers do not need to contact the IRS to get this relief. However, if an affected taxpayer receives a late filing or late payment penalty notice from the IRS that has an original or extended filing, payment or deposit due date falling within the postponement period, the taxpayer should call the number on the notice to have the penalty abated.

The current list of eligible localities is always available on the disaster relief page on IRS.gov.

Do surrounding areas outside of Louisiana qualify for an extension?

The IRS will work with any taxpayer who lives outside the disaster area but whose records necessary to meet a deadline occurring during the postponement period are located in the affected area. Taxpayers qualifying for relief who live outside the disaster area need to contact the IRS at 866-562-5227. This also includes workers, assisting the relief activities, who are affiliated with a recognized government or philanthropic organization.

How can I claim a casualty and property loss on my taxes if impacted?

Individuals or businesses who suffered uninsured or unreimbursed disaster-related casualty losses can choose to claim them on either the tax return for the year the loss occurred (in this instance, the 2021 return filed in 2022), or the loss can be deducted on the tax return for the prior year (2020). Individuals may also deduct personal property losses that are not covered by insurance or other reimbursements. Be sure to write the FEMA declaration number – 4611 − for Hurricane Ida in Louisiana on any return claiming a loss.

The tax relief is part of a coordinated federal response to the damage caused by the harsh storms and is based on local damage assessments by FEMA. For information on disaster recovery, visit disasterassistance.gov.

If you are not a victim, but you are looking to help those in need, this is a great opportunity to donate or volunteer your time to legitimate 501(c)(3) not-for-profit charities who are providing relief efforts for storm victims.

Check back with the TurboTax blog for more updates on disaster relief. For more tax tips in 5 minutes or less, subscribe to the Turbo Tips podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and iHeartRadio



By :

Source: IRS Provides Tax Relief for Victims of Hurricane Ida


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4 Tech Tools Your Business Needs During Natural Disasters

Every day brings new headlines about hurricanes, floods, or wildfires disrupting daily life. As a business owner, you have the added responsibility of deciding when to shut down operations, as well as ensuring your workers are safe and informed of developments. You may have to respond to employees who have been displaced from their homes, or are unable to get to work due to unsafe conditions. That can be a huge challenge when electrical grids are knocked out or wildfires disrupt cell towers.

Here are a few tools and tips that can help your business prepare for and even continue functioning in a natural disaster.

1. Set up a Whatsapp group for emergencies

An internet or power outage can cut off employees’ access to email. Consider setting up a group chat on Whatsapp, Telegram, Signal, or another end-to-end encrypted messaging app instead. Such platforms allow users to send and receive messages using either Wi-Fi or mobile data; while most natural disasters pose serious risks to cell and internet infrastructure, one outage may get fixed before the other.

For example, despite an internet outage following the January 2020 earthquakes in Puerto Rico, many people were able to stay connected through mobile networks. Some ISPs will make their public Wi-Fi hotspots available for free during natural disasters.

Whatsapp also allows users to share their live location, which has helped first responders find missing people. Many companies already use Whatsapp or other messaging apps for internal communications, but there are privacy risks associated with regularly using any app. Instead, consider making such apps an emergency-only tool so employees will only have to use them sparingly.

2. Consider a device with LEO connectivity

Satellite internet is still far from common, and far from a necessity. But LEO (low earth orbit) tech will become cheaper and more available in the near future. Apple’s upcoming iPhone 13 reportedly will feature LEO hardware, which means that users can send or receive messages through satellite internet in case 4G or 5G networks are down.

When available, that might be the most cost-effective satellite internet solution; many satellite internet phones range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Another option is to set up your employees with satellite internet at home. Satellite internet providers like Viasat and HughesNet have special plans for small businesses.

3. Keep track of fuel shortages with GasBuddy

If you or your employees are struggling to find fuel during a hurricane or snowstorm, a free mobile app can help. GasBuddy, which locates the nearest gas station with available fuel, became one of the most-downloaded apps during the Colonial Pipeline hacks earlier this year. The app also has a crowdsourced dashboard that keeps track of fuel outages by city.

4. Inform customers through social media

If you already have an active social media presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, those channels can come in handy to announce store closures or any changes in hours. It’s likely many of your customers are scouring social media anyway for the latest updates on the weather. Be sure your post doesn’t get lost in the shuffle by using the name of the disaster as a hashtag or within the text of the post. Clearly mention the day and date, so prospective customers don’t get fooled by an old post. Also, be sure to update your social feeds once your business is operating again.

By Amrita Khalid, Staff writer@askhalid

Source: 4 Tech Tools Your Business Needs During Natural Disasters | Inc.com


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