• Tech Tech

Scientist makes troubling discovery when examining air quality inside nursing homes: 'It was no better to be inside than to be outside'

"It's a gap that needs to be addressed."

"It's a gap that needs to be addressed."

Photo Credit: iStock

During the record-shattering 2020 wildfire season in the U.S., a scientist discovered a dangerous amount of smoke pollution was drifting into nursing homes in Idaho and Montana, threatening residents' health and making it harder for them to breathe.

What's happening?

As CBS News reported, Luke Montrose, an environmental toxicologist and researcher at Colorado State University, installed air quality monitors in four Idaho long-term care facilities in 2020. 

After reviewing the data collected from the monitors, Montrose discovered that some nursing homes had highly unsafe air quality due to ongoing wildfires

In one building, Montrose found that 50% of the outdoor particulate matter — an air pollutant released from industrial activities, vehicle exhaust, and power plants — had seeped inside. Even worse, another building let in 100% of the harmful pollutants. 

Montrose told CBS News that in some facilities, "it was no better to be inside than to be outside during those smoke events."

While people living in western U.S. states are accustomed to dealing with wildfires, they've gotten increasingly larger and more destructive in recent years. Rising global temperatures and a longer wildfire season are causing smoke to reach areas normally unaffected by wildfires. 

For example, in the summer of 2023, much of the Northeastern U.S. was blanketed by a smoky orange haze from Canadian wildfires, creating apocalyptic-looking skies and some of the worst air quality in the world. 

Why is poor air quality from wildfires concerning?

As CBS News explained, worsening air quality from more frequent wildfires is a growing public health threat. Some particulate matter known as PM 2.5 is small enough to get lodged deep in people's lungs and bloodstream, which can cause numerous health problems, such as asthma, reduced lung function, and even certain cancers. 

That puts people in nursing homes at greater risk since many of them may suffer from pre-existing health conditions, such as lung or heart disease. Older adults also have weaker immune systems, making it more difficult to recover from breathing in wildfire smoke. 

Moreover, Montrose told CBS that 25-30% of nursing homes in the Mountain West are over 30 miles from the nearest regulatory-grade air quality monitors, meaning many residents could be unknowingly breathing in unsafe air. 

What's being done to protect residents from bad air?

Montrose plans to contact more nursing homes in Idaho, Montana, and Colorado this summer about installing air quality monitors. According to CBS News, he also hopes other areas in the Western U.S., such as his hometown of Salt Lake City, will consider installing the devices to improve their health.

"I think honing in on this particular community that is really quite impacted by smoke exposure on the health side of things is really great," Savannah D'Evelyn, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Washington who studies the impacts of wildfire smoke, told the outlet. "It's a gap that needs to be addressed."

However, Katherine Pruitt, national senior director for policy at the American Lung Association, explained that the "most effective actions" for improving indoor air quality would be higher ventilation standards enforced by state or local officials. 

On an individual level, we can help clean the air and cool the planet by switching to energy-efficient appliances and getting our energy from clean sources, such as solar power.

Join our free newsletter for weekly updates on the coolest innovations improving our lives and saving our planet.

Cool Divider