Dusting and Mopping Better Than Air Purifiers for Cleaning Indoor Air After a Wildfire

Even after wildfire smoke has visibly dissipated, lingering toxins inside can affect air quality and threaten our health. Harmful chemicals stick to surfaces and are released into the air, and air filters don’t remove them, according to new research.

in a published study This month in Science Advances, scientists documented how smoke leaves chemicals known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, lingering on surfaces inside a home. Those chemicals are emitted into the air for days after wildfire smoke has cleared outside, contaminating the air inside a home and exposing residents to various health risks. Air purifiers did not remove these chemicals, but researchers found that cleaning surfaces (mopping floors and washing walls) significantly reduced VOCs that could be detected in the air.

For their experiment, the researchers injected smoke for two weeks into a test house and monitored the air quality. They monitored indoor air for levels of formaldehyde, a chemical that can irritate the respiratory system, as well as formic acid, which irritates eyes and nose. They also monitored levels of furan, a chemical that is possibly a carcinogen. These chemicals are VOCs.

They tried a variety of methods to remove airborne VOCs in the test home, including running air purifiers, and most of them did little to permanently improve air quality. But once the researchers dusted, vacuumed, and mopped with a commercial cleaner, they recorded much lower levels of VOCs in the air. After cleaning, the amount of formic acid in the air decreased by 50%, formaldehyde by 32%, and furan by 19%.

Delphine Farmer, an author of the study and a professor at the University of Colorado, explained that the team used monitors such as mass spectrometers to monitor the changes. “We did quite a few experiments with air cleaners and they are very effective for airborne particles,” she told Earther. “But we found that they are not very effective for any of the volatile organic compounds in any of those gases.”

The researchers opened windows and doors to ventilate the house they were experimenting in, but found that VOC levels increased again as soon as they stopped ventilating. The only permanent solution was cleaning. Farmer noted that the need to strategically clean up the interior after wildfires will be relevant to more and more people in North America, referencing the apocalyptic wildfires. throughout the continent this summer. Even people far from the fire were affected, as clouds of smoke spread from Canada to the northeastern United States.

When asked about how to improve indoor air during a days-long smoke event, Farmer suggested an air purifier during the smoke event to decrease the amount of particles in the air and clean surfaces for VOCs soon afterward. . “The longer you wait to clean, the longer you will be exposed,” he said.

These results are relevant to other, less dramatic events that affect indoor air quality. “Although this paper focuses on wildfire smoke, our results may be applied to other air pollution scenarios, including intensive cooking, heavy urban smog infiltration, smoking, or other indoor emission activities,” he said. the team in a statement.

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