In recent years, wildfire smoke has brought hazy, orange skies to many American cities.
Breathing this smoke can be hazardous to your health, so people are encouraged to stay indoors when the air quality is poor.
But staying inside may not be enough to keep you safe.
Ethan Walker of the University of Montana was part of a team that studied the air quality in 20 Montana homes during the 2022 wildfire season.
“Some homes had pretty good air quality indoors through the wildfire season, and others, we found that air pollution indoors was nearly as bad or just as bad as it was outside,” he says.
Part of the problem is that wildfires often hit during the sweltering summer months, so people without air conditioning open their windows to stay cool.
“And so they are forced to make this very difficult choice, where heat is often the more acute danger to your health … but then if you’re opening your windows for ventilation, then you’re exposing yourself to more of this wildfire smoke,” Walker says.
And the researchers found that even with the windows shut, some smoke was able to creep into people’s homes.
So the study shows the importance of access to both air conditioning and air filtration — especially as the climate warms.
Reporting credit: Ethan Freedman/ChavoBart Digital Media