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EPA grant — almost $1M — will fund CSU research on air quality communication during wildfires

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Posted at 11:01 AM, Mar 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-09 13:01:33-05

DENVER — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded Colorado State University a nearly $1 million grant to fund research on how to improve communication about air quality amid wildfires.

A research team at CSU will build partnerships around the state to expand where air quality is monitored and improve communication with residents in smoke-impacted areas. The team will build maps to help users understand changes in air pollution and decide how to best minimize smoke exposure. The team acknowledged that there are more strategies now to reduce exposure to smoke, however effectively communicating with the public about it remains a challenge.

CSU's research is titled "Smoke-ready communities, creating and sustaining air quality information using targeted communication interventions."

The grant is one of 12 research projects that received EPA's Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grant funding to address strategies to reduce exposure, and therefore health risks, from wildland fire smoke. In total, the projects were awarded $9 million, according to the EPA. Two other projects being funded are out of the University of Colorado in Boulder. One of those is researching schools' decision-making during wildfires and the other is examining the transport of wildfire-generated particles into homes. Both of these projects were funded with about $550,000 each from the EPA.

Wildfire smoke is made of gasses and fine particles that are produced when wood and other materials burn. Those fine particles pose the greatest threat in the smoke. Human exposure to them can make a person's eyes burn, nose run, and can bring on illnesses, but can also aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases. The smoke can also cause cancer and other serious health problems, according to the EPA.

EPA Region 8 Administrator KC Becker said in the wake of the Marshall Fire in December 2021, Coloradans understand how climate change can increase the risk of wildfires in communities.

“This funding to CSU will improve communication with people about air pollution during wildfire events so that they can better protect their health,” Becker said.

The CSU research will last through Feb. 28, 2025. The investigators on the project include Emily Fischer, Ashley Anderson, Katie Abrams, Sheryl Magzamen, Jeffrey Pierce, and Bonne Ford.

Air quality advisories due to smoke have been abundant in the past few years in Colorado as wildfires become more of a year-round occurrence.

To name a few recent instances: In July 2021, smoke from wildfires near and far settled around Colorado, spurring air quality advisories in more than a dozen counties and an Ozone Action Day Alert for the Front Range. In August, the entire state of Colorado was under air quality health advisories for wildfire smoke after a weekend in which Denver’s air quality was among the worst in major cities across the world (the Air Quality Index in Denver reached 180). That same month, many Rocky Mountain states were under similar conditions. In September, Colorado saw an increase in smoke from out-of-state wildfires for much of a week, with multiple air quality health advisories across the state.