Researchers study smoke from wildfires in Idaho nursing homes

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Two years ago, public health researchers installed air quality sensors at four Idaho skilled nursing facilities to detect smoke from wildfires.

2020 has been a record year for forest fires for the West, especially California, and the smoke from those fires made its way to Idaho.

“Some facilities did very well, even when there was an outdoor event, to keep the air relatively clean,” said Luke Montrose, assistant professor of public health and population sciences at the University. of Boise State. “Other facilities were less capable of doing this.”

Older people are particularly vulnerable to small smoke particles because they have higher rates of pre-existing heart and lung disease. Montrose wants to understand how smoke affects older populations in Idaho, including those in skilled nursing facilities.

Data from sensors his team placed in a few facilities told Montrose that the indoor air in all four buildings was affected by smoke outside, but some had higher levels of particulates than others.

A new grant from the Network of clinical and translational research infrastructures will help the team, which includes the university’s Center for Studies in Aging, to further analyze this data. It could also help them understand how the built environment, such as HVAC systems, and human behavior, opening and closing windows and doors during a smoke event, can affect indoor air quality.

“There are things that we think we can learn from facilities that are doing a good job that we could then use to help other facilities do better,” Montrose said.

Montrose thinks the findings could apply to other buildings with vulnerable populations, including schools.

Another part of the project is communicating the results to skilled nursing facilities.

“We didn’t want to blame the victim,” said Sarah Toevs, the director of the Center for the Study of Aging. “The entire assisted living [and] The nursing home world is one of the most regulated industries in the country.”

However, there are few indoor air guidelines. The research team works to help facilities understand changes in real-time air quality data.

Some collaborative work has been put on hold due to COVID-19, which has severely affected Idaho’s long-term care facilities and their residents. But Montrose said the pandemic has heightened industry awareness of indoor air quality, and many of the interventions to protect residents from the virus also apply to smoke from wildfires.

“Whether they like it or not, they will have to start thinking about the impact of wildfire smoke on their residents, because it will,” he said.

Find journalist Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio

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