Colorado Fire Rivaled Worst Air Pollution Days

According to Colorado State University researchers, the summer’s High Park Fire has higher particulate matter that some of the worst air pollution days in Los Angeles or Mexico City in the past decade.

Researchers took toxicity measurements with a small, inexpensive test device made from paper they created and attached to individuals who wore them for the duration of the fire. The device, worn on the shoulder, measured oxidative intake of particulate air pollution.

"Not only was the air pollution some of the highest we've seen in decades in Colorado during the fire, its toxic strength rivaled the worst days we see in those cities," said John Volckens, a professor of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences who conducted the study with Chuck Henry, a professor of Chemistry. "On days before the High Park Fire, the air pollution levels were some of the cleanest in the country."

The device could help scientists better understand the effects of air pollution on people. Knowing how individuals are affected could help researchers understand how pollution leads to disease over a person's lifetime and how to target the sources of pollution that cause the most harm.

"We have different lifestyles, different sources of air pollution in our homes and live in different proximity to major sources of air pollution in our homes," Henry said. "We've always looked at air pollution from 30,000 feet. Monitoring the individual could also help people know when they're inhaling pollutants or bringing them home from work."

The next step for the researchers will be to create a network of citizen scientists who could test the devices and help them create a map of air pollution levels around the city.

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