SUPERIOR, Colo. (KDVR) — A team of scientists and students from the University of Colorado Boulder are measuring air pollution following the Marshall Fire.
The team, led by Professor Joost de Gouw, is specifically looking at the impact of smoke damage inside homes that are still standing.
“They smelled horribly, and so people wanted to know what they were exposed to and also what they could do about it,” de Gouw said.
The project uses instruments that can measure the amount and size of smoke particles in the air as well as what compounds make up the smell of the smoke.
“We’ve studied wildfires for many years, but this was not an ordinary wildfire. What was burning here was homes, it was furniture, it was trash, it was everything we have inside our homes and around it,” de Gouw said.
According to de Gouw, air pollution scientists know very little about the pollutants associated with a large-scale event involving homes and the synthetic materials inside them.
“So, we’re also on the lookout for chemicals that may be coming from sources like that and that we’re not as familiar with,” he said.
So far, he says the most surprising finding from the data they have collected from ten homes over the past eight days is the amount of smoke and fire pollution still inside the homes.
“Our homes, unfortunately, acted like a sponge. They soaked up a lot of these air pollutants,” de Gouw said.
According to the data, current research shows smoke smells are 10 times higher inside homes than what they are outside the home.
“We see higher concentrations indoors than outside, so there is reason for concern,” de Gouw said.
However, for the chemicals air pollution scientists are familiar with, the levels do not indicate a major hazard.
“A compound like benzene, it’s a carcinogenic compound, if you compare what we see in [the house] versus the level that would give you acute health effects, we’re nowhere near to that level,” de Gouw said.
He tells FOX31, based on his past research, he would have expected pollution levels inside homes to still be lower at this point.
“Still after three weeks, the impact is so noticeable,” he said.
The team is also testing air quality after opening and closing windows while using homemade air filtering systems and other variables that could help or hinder indoor pollution levels.
For example, many homeowners are likely to open windows to help ventilate their homes after the fire. However, it is unclear how long the ventilation takes. According to the team’s research, short periods of ventilation are not effective long-term.
“Unfortunately, when you close the windows back up the concentrations come back up,” he said.
The research project is expected to continue as long as homeowners are willing to keep the equipment inside their homes. The homes being used for the experiment are currently unoccupied as the owners have not returned following the fire.