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Sensing the smoke: Bend tech firm measures C.O. air quality like never before

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Air quality in Central Oregon is usually excellent. During fire season, however, our air quality can rapidly decline to unhealthy levels, as wildfires belch smoke and ash into the air.

Accurate, localized detection of poor air quality has not been possible -- until now.

E::Space labs is a small group of scientists who work in southeast Bend, and they've changed the game.

"We are an electronic design and prototyping lab helping businesses in Central Oregon develop new products, with prototyping in mind as a first step," E::Space co-founder Rick Silver said recently.

Air quality detection was almost an afterthought at E::Space, but after two years of development in conjunction with OSU-Cascades engineering and science students, it's become a primary focus of their operations.

The sensors they've created are more numerous, more accurate and update more frequently than the limited Oregon Department of Environmental Quality sensors in the region.

"They only have four in Central Oregon, and we put in 20," co-founder David Robson said. "It gives a much more comprehensive indication of the extent of the particulate matter in the area."

"What (the sensors are) sensing is particulate matter as small as 2.5 nanometers, which is small enough that it can actually penetrate, go through your blood vessels, get into your lungs, get into your heart, get into your brain," E::Space advisory board member Chuck Allen said.

Dr. Kevin Sherer of Summit Medical Group said symptoms of bad air quality can include a runny nose, dry cough, sore throat, and, after enough exposure, shortness of breath and headaches. Sherer said the information provided by the sensors can be vital -- even life-saving.

"I think that's a wonderful resource for the community," Sherer said, "so if there is a very poor air quality day, then that would be a day, if you can, to change your routine and activities and stay indoors and avoid the smoke, particularly for individuals with chronic heart and lung disease."

While air conditioning and air filters can be of great help, those dealing with respiratory conditions or symptoms of coronavirus may need to take extra precautions.

"If you go outside, you're going to be exposed to this. So really the key is staying indoors, if you're someone who's susceptible to environmental smoke," Sherer said.

The scientists at E::Space know how critical air quality information is to a place like Central Oregon.

"Bend, as we all know, is a mecca for outdoor activity, and going out in the outdoors when air quality is substandard is not a good idea," Silver said.

Robson added, "It's a health issue, as well as a convenience issue.Wwhen you want to do exercise outside, or you want to do an activity, you want to know if it's safe or not."

NewsChannel 21 uses E::Space's model for its Local Alert Weather newscast segments -- one more tool to help keep you prepared and safe.

Article Topic Follows: Health

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Bob Shaw

Bob Shaw is the chief meteorologist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Bob here.

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Mike Allen

Mike Allen is a reporter, anchor and producer for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Mike here.


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