The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it is providing researchers at Portland State University and University of Washington with $1.1 million for two projects to help school districts and communities reduce exposure to harmful pollution from wildland fire smoke. The universities are among nine institutions across the nation receiving a total of $7 million under EPA’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program for research to address health risks from wildland fire smoke.
Portland State University will receive grant funding of $547,899 to conduct field and laboratory measurements to better quantify transport of particulate matter from outdoor to indoor air. The results of this effort will be used to holistically evaluate the effectiveness of recommended strategies to reduce indoor exposures to smoke, and characterize air toxics called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) on indoor surfaces. Learn more about this project here.
The University of Washington will receive grant funding of $548,000 to work with ten schools in Washington to evaluate the effectiveness of classroom-based portable air cleaners to reduce respiratory health effects associated with wildfire particulate matter exposure. The project will also adapt an existing, hands-on air quality curriculum aimed at increasing environmental health literacy on the topic of ambient smoke, air quality, and health. Learn more about this project here.
“As wildfires become more frequent and severe, we are working to effectively communicate the risks of smoke exposure to impacted communities,” said Wayne Cascio, acting principal deputy assistant administrator for science in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “We are seeing an increase in prescribed fires to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires; however, these are also a source of smoke exposure. The research we are funding will help develop strategies to prevent and reduce the health impacts of smoke from wildfires and prescribed fires.”
Wildland fire (wildfire and prescribed fires) smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles produced when wood and other organic materials burn. The biggest health threat from smoke is from fine particles. Outside or indoors, exposure to these microscopic particles can cause burning eyes, runny nose, and illnesses such as bronchitis. Additionally, fine particles can aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases, and they are linked to premature deaths in people with these conditions. Smoke also contains air toxics that can cause cancer or other serious health effects.
The institutions receiving these grants will conduct research to understand what actions might be effective for reducing ambient and indoor exposures to wildland fire smoke, and how best to communicate these actions to various groups. This research will integrate multiple disciplines including social and behavioral sciences, air quality science, and engineering.
Additional institutions receiving EPA STAR grants include:
- University of Colorado, Boulder, Colo., is using low-cost particulate matter sensors to compare indoor smoke levels in schools and homes in the Denver area to inform public health guidance for school districts regarding if schools should close when they are impacted by wildfire smoke to protect the health of students.
- University of Colorado, Boulder, Colo., is assessing the transport of wildfire particulate matter into single-family housing in the Western U.S. and developing practical interventions to help people reduce their indoor exposure to particulate matter from wildfires.
- Public Health Institute, Oakland, Calif., is conducting research to reduce wildfire smoke exposures and health risks among agricultural workers and other low-income families by designing and field testing an affordable and effective filtration system for rooftop evaporative coolers, which are often used to cool homes without air conditioning.
- Stanford University, Stanford, Calif., is using a smartphone app built from EPA’s Smoke Sense platform to identify affordable and actionable intervention steps to reduce health impacts from smoke exposure for low-income, non-English speaking individuals and communities in northern California.
- University of California, Berkeley, Calif., is conducting research to create a more precise model of wildfire smoke risk data for California, and to develop risk communication and dissemination strategies for hard-to-reach populations that can be used by communities and healthcare providers to protect people from the health impacts of wildfire smoke exposure.
- Desert Research Institute, Reno, Nev., is conducting research to increase wildfire smoke risk mitigation in rural communities through the development, implementation, and evaluation of stakeholder-driven monitoring and messaging in northern Nevada.
- Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, is employing and assessing the effectiveness of air quality forecasting, on-site low-cost monitoring, and air cleaning, and coordinated communication approaches at reducing exposures of schoolchildren in southern Georgia and Alabama to elevated levels of fine particulate matter and other air pollutants from prescribed fires.
- Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, is conducting research on health risk communication related to prescribed burn events to inform the development and dissemination of a Risk Communication ToolKit that can be used to plan for and conduct health risk communication in communities surrounding prescribed burn events.