Wildfire Impact on Indoor and Outdoor PAH Air Quality

Environ Sci Technol. 2022 Jul 19;56(14):10042-10052. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.2c00619. Epub 2022 Jul 8.


Air quality impacts from wildfires are poorly understood, particularly indoors. As frequencies increase, it is important to optimize methodologies to understand and reduce chemical exposures from wildfires. Public health recommendations use air quality estimates from outdoor stationary air monitors, discounting indoor air conditions, and do not consider chemicals in the vapor phase, known to elicit adverse effects. We investigated vapor-phase polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in indoor and outdoor air before, during, and after wildfires using a community-engaged research approach. Paired passive air samplers were deployed at 15 locations across four states. Twelve unique PAHs were detected only in outdoor air during wildfires, highlighting a PAH exposure mixture for future study. Heavy-molecular-weight (HMW) outdoor PAH concentrations and average Air Quality Index (AQI) values were positively correlated (p < 0.001). Indoor PAH concentrations were higher in 77% of samples across all sampling events. Even during wildfires, 58% of sampled locations still had higher indoor PAH air concentrations. When AQI values exceeded 140 (unhealthy for sensitive groups), outdoor PAH concentrations became similar to or higher than indoors. Cancer and noncancer inhalation risk estimates from vapor-phase PAHs were higher indoors than outdoors, regardless of the wildfire impact. Consideration of indoor air quality and vapor-phase PAHs could inform public health recommendations regarding wildfires.

Keywords: community-engaged research; passive sampling; public health; vapor-phase PAHs; wildfire PAH exposure mixture.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants* / analysis
  • Air Pollution* / analysis
  • Air Pollution, Indoor* / analysis
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Gases
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons* / analysis
  • Wildfires*


  • Air Pollutants
  • Gases
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons