Indoor versus Outdoor Air Quality during Wildfires

Environ Sci Technol Lett. 2019 Dec 10;6(12):696-701. doi: 10.1021/acs.estlett.9b00599. Epub 2019 Nov 11.


The human behavioral modification recommendations during wildfire events are based on particulate matter and may be confounded by the potential risks of gas-phase pollutants such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Moreover, the majority of adults spend over 90 percent of their time indoors where there is an increased concern of indoor air quality during wildfire events. We address these timely concerns by evaluating paired indoor and outdoor PAH concentrations in residential locations and their relationship with satellite model-based categorization of wildfire smoke intensity. Low-density polyethylene passive air samplers were deployed at six urban sites for 1 week in Eugene, Oregon with matched indoor and outdoor samples and 24 h time resolution. Samples were then quantitatively analyzed for 63 PAH concentrations using gas-chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry. A probabilistic principal components analysis was used to reduce all 63 PAHs into an aggregate measure. Linear regression of the first principal component against indoor versus outdoor shows that indoor gas-phase PAH concentrations are consistently equal to or greater than outdoor concentrations. Regression against a satellite-based model for wildfire smoke shows that outdoor, but not indoor gas-phase PAH concentrations are likely associated with wildfire events. These results point toward the need to include gas-phase pollutants such as PAHs in air pollution risk assessment.