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How clean is indoor air, really? Salt Lake County, University of Utah Health studying air quality inside and outside families’ homes

Posted By Regional Development
August 31, 2021

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When the air outside is visibly thick with a brown and yellow haze of pollutants, Salt Lake County families retreat indoors, where it is arguably safer to breathe. But, what if it’s not?

University of Utah Health and Salt Lake County kicked off a new scientific study of local indoor and outdoor air quality, which aims to better understand the status of air quality in at-risk families’ homes across the valley, from the summer’s smoke and heat to the winter’s inversions.

“It is critical to not only improve the air we breathe outside but understand and improve the air the most vulnerable among us breathe inside their homes as well if we are going to protect the safety of residents and ensure a healthier future,” Mayor Jenny Wilson said.

The study will involve tracking indoor and outdoor air quality in Salt Lake County through the end of 2021 and into early 2022, after which the results will be analyzed and shared with the public.

“There is a common misconception that indoor air quality is vastly different from outdoor air quality and always better,” said Dr. Daniel Mendoza, CEO of AQUEHS Corp, who is one of the study’s experts collecting data. “Unfortunately, activities, such as cooking and vacuuming, can make indoor air quality worse than outdoors. Very small particles, such as from the wildfires we are currently experiencing, are able to work their way in a home through any small cracks and openings.”

Ozone Air MonitorMendoza and Scott Collingwood, PhD and University of Utah Health assistant professor of pediatrics, are placing multiple instruments in the homes of 10 Salt Lake County families that have agreed to participate in the study and are also part of Salt Lake County’s free Green and Healthy Homes Program. Monitors will capture PM2.5 and ozone. Radon, the second leading cause of lung cancer, is also being monitored in the study.

“This project will be the first opportunity to have an objective analysis of air quality in the homes participating in the County’s Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, where we get high resolution measurements both before and after the program’s interventions and updates,” Collingwood said. “Future work can expand on the project to evaluate any health care improvements, cost reductions and quality of life improvements like reducing lost work and school days.”

Early Data

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Early data gathered from the study shows a large spike in PM2.5 in the middle of August 6, when Salt Lake County first experienced the California wildfire plume. During the initial event, the air quality inside the residence was above red for a couple of hours and above orange for almost two days (PM2.5).

However, other measurements show a noticeable decrease in ozone gas during that same time period since the sun was so obscured that it could not be generated. As expected, ozone is relatively low inside at all times.

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Effects of Poor Air Quality

Pollutants found indoors, including small particles and gases, can cause shortness of breath, chest tightening, wheezing, coughing, and chest pain. Following initial data collection, personalized intervention will be taken through the Salt Lake County Green and Healthy Homes Program, after which additional measurements will be taken at homes to assess levels of improved air quality.

“This is part of our overall effort to help anyone affected by poor indoor air quality,” said John Russell, a Salt Lake County Housing Program Manager. “There’s a way to make your home healthier. We’ve been doing this work for decades in Salt Lake County, but we’ve never had the air quality measurements we’re getting now. We know the Healthy Homes interventions have an impact, and this will give us an objective measurement.”

Residents can take small steps to improve their indoor air quality and personal health without having to purchase an expensive air filtration unit by testing for radon; washing bedding in addition to dusting and vacuuming regularly; cleaning mold and fixing water leaks; and cleaning without harsh chemicals. To learn more about Green & Healthy Homes, as well as how to reduce health triggers in your home, visit slco.org/green-healthy-homes.