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U of U study scrutinizes indoor air quality; researcher soft-pedals findings

By Ryan Aston - | May 22, 2024

Ryan Aston, Standard-Examiner

University of Utah researchers examined air filters from homes along the Wasatch Front as part of a recent indoor air quality study.

Researchers at the University of Utah conducted an indoor air study of over 100 households along the Wasatch Front — including in Salt Lake, Davis and Weber counties — this past winter.

Their findings: The air we breathe inside can be as polluted, or more so, than what we breathe outdoors. And it’s not simply a matter of outside pollutants becoming trapped in our homes.

“While outdoor air pollution does have some substantial bearing on what indoor air pollution values are, really, what you do inside your home has the largest influence,” Daniel Mendoza — one of the project leads and a professor at the university — told the Standard-Examiner.

Mendoza noted that some of those activities may not be immediately obvious as contributors to a reduction of air quality.

“We still, in many homes — and I would almost say the majority of homes — we’re still cooking over an open flame,” he said. “People don’t tend to think about cooking as a source of pollution, but it is indeed.”

The lighting of candles/incense, and the use of hairsprays and air fresheners also impacts indoor air quality. So, too, does the introduction of allergens into the household environment through pets.

In addition to testing the air itself, researchers focused on examining furnace filters at participating households, taking dust samples and testing for the presence of 43 different metals. Levels of compounds like arsenic, lead and uranium were registered through those tests.

However, a dirty filter could be just as indicative of a well-functioning filtration system as it is of a potential pollution issue.

“It turned out that for some homes that had high amounts of pollutants that we measured, they had higher-efficiency filters,” Mendoza said. “So, of course they’re going to catch more. It doesn’t necessarily mean that their air is dirtier.”

Mendoza also indicated that some of the particulate matter present in our air is naturally occurring or doesn’t have established exposure guidelines.

“We need to be conscious and not necessarily jump to really, I would say, excessive conclusions about this,” he said. “This was really almost, I would almost call it an exploratory study.”

Mendoza has designs on conducting further study of the quality of indoor air in the region, including a geographical expansion throughout the Wasatch Front. The overwhelming majority of participants in this study were located in Salt Lake and West Valley cities.

In the meantime, he says there are a number of small, inexpensive steps people can take to improve the air quality within their homes.

The regular cleaning of air vents and ducts, as well as the maintaining of consistent air flow/ventilation throughout the house can make a difference. Regularly replacing filters also is of prime importance, as is the use of high-quality filters.

“A (filter with a) MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) rating of 11 is generally fairly safe for all homes,” Mendoza said. “Contact your HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) technician or do some research on particularly the age and the make of your furnace. Take a look and see how high of a MERV filter it can withstand.”


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