SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Outdoor air quality is heavily studied and monitored, but what about the air we breathe indoors?

Scientists admit there is still a lot to learn in this area. One ongoing University of Utah study finds that, at times, the air in our homes is worse than stepping outdoors.

Every year, the smog settles in and is trapped under the inversion. And every year, the warnings go out, urging everyone to stay inside. It happened 170 times in 2018, in Salt Lake County alone, where voluntary or mandatory action days were issued. Although, most of those days, the air quality did not surpass the national air quality standard, they were still days of concern and days when the air was dangerous to breath.

Recent research at the University of Utah is starting to reveal that the air indoors can be just as polluted as the air outdoors.

“There’s a wide range of class of chemicals that have a wide range of health effects that can be severe to relatively inconsequential,” Utah Department of Health Epidemiologist Nathan LaCross explained.

Common pollutants can be cooking residue, wood burning indoor stoves, varnishes, paints, mold spores and even candles. VOC’s, or volatile organic compounds, also contaminate the air. They’re the chemicals that send fumes into the air, such as certain household products, cleaning solutions, paint thinners, or some glue.

“Some new products like pressed wood, carpets, rugs, ect. can sometimes off-gas VOC’s as well,” LaCross said.  He went on to explain that often times, when you’re cooking, its producing smoke and making particles that increase the pollution level indoors.

Particulate matter is another pollutant to be aware of. This is matter that’s small enough to enter into your lungs as you breathe. Cooking, sweeping, or a home improvement project, can fill the indoor air with p-m’s, and often times you are not aware of it.

“I think it’s a message we should be beating pretty hard,” says Tony Butterfield, Associate Professor Lecturer at the University of Utah.

This is especially important, since we know, that the average American spends 90-percent of their time indoors. It’s the young, the elderly, the chronically ill, and those with respiratory or cardiovascular disease, who may be most at risk.

“They might experience aggravation of those existing conditions, bronchitis, cardiac issues, especially for those who have cardiac issues already,” LaCross explained.  He adds that some indoor pollutants can be a carcinogen.

“Air quality is something that impacts us all and this research has the potential to help a lot of people,” says Tony Butterfield, Associate Professor Lecturer at the University of Utah.

So how do we know what’s polluting our home so we can eliminate it? That brings us back to the University of Utah study, and the one hundred AirU Sensors, that are working day and night, collecting data.

Kerry Kelly, an Assistant Professional of Chemical Engineering at the University of Utah, explains that they’ve placed the sensors, including a memory card, Wi-Fi, GPS, ozone detector and laser sensor, in 100 homes of asthmatic and sensitive patients.

“The goal is to support the study in pediatrics, or folks who have asthma or sensitive patients, so we can figure out what triggers their symptoms,” Kelly said. “Our next steps are we want to get more out. Increase accuracy and decrease the cost. This will help figure out what’s in your homes so you know where your issues are.”

Another goal is to create a wearable and portable air quality monitor, to monitor the air quality, wherever the wearer happens to be, even inside.

“It could follow you everywhere, and that would give you a much better estimate at what types of things are causing your symptoms,” Kerry said. “This information is very valuable.”

“It would allow users to get more customized data. They could use Google Path, to go to the least amount of pollution path, instead of relying on some average data,” explained Pierre-Emmanuel Gaillardon, an Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Utah.

At this point, the wearable sensor is still in the prototype phase, Kelly explained, but says it’s expected to be completed in the next 6 to 12 months.

“I think one of the key things people should learn is that air quality is not homogenous in all areas,” says Butterfield. “There are spots they visit daily that can have better or worse air quality, and if they are better informed about sources of pollution, they can make conscious decisions to alter those.”

So what can you do now to better protect yourself and your family while indoors? LaCross says, avoiding all pollutants is the very best, but admits that’s nearly impossible.

Simple steps could be that when you are cooking, cleaning, or painting; try and increase your ventilation. If you have a physical symptom or reaction to a certain product, change it.

Next, get air filters; hepa filters are recommended; and avoid filters that produce ozone. Also, make sure you clean or replace your filters regularly. Depending on your living situation, it’s recommended, that you change your filters every 60 to 90 days.

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