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EPA challenge seeks innovative solutions to cut indoor wildfire smoke

SEATTLE (KTVZ) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other federal, state, local and tribal partners have launched the Cleaner Indoor Air During Wildfires Challenge Competition.

The goal of the challenge is to solicit ideas for low-cost air cleaning technologies that reduce particulate air pollutants in homes during western wildfires or other high pollution episodes. If their ideas are chosen, Challenge winners will receive prizes of up to $10,000.

“As we work to address the public health threat from large and more intense wildfires in our country, particularly in our western states, we call on all innovators to provide ideas and solutions for new and low-cost technologies or approaches to reduce indoor air pollution during wildfires,” said Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta, Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Research and Development and the agency’s Acting Science Advisor.

“This challenge will help protect public health by stimulating the development of effective air cleaning devices that are accessible to all communities during wildfires or other air pollution events.”

Wildfires release many pollutants that are unsafe to breathe. Particle pollution, specifically fine particulate matter (PM2.5), is a main component of wildfire smoke and a known health risk for people exposed to high amounts or prolonged levels.

This is particularly hazardous to people with pre-existing health conditions, such as asthma or cardiovascular disease. Smoke can spread many miles during wildfires, impacting communities near and far. Recommended responses include staying indoors with doors and windows closed, when possible.

Current air cleaning technologies for indoor air have multiple limitations that prevent their widespread use, including the cost of purchase, operation, and maintenance, as well as dependence on electrical power, which can be disrupted by wildfires or rolling blackouts.

This Challenge encourages the development of affordable and sustainable approaches, technologies, or technology combinations for keeping indoor air as clean as possible during periods when outdoor PM2.5 concentrations are elevated, such as during smoke events caused by fires.

The following organizations are partnering with EPA on this challenge competition:

  • Puget Sound Clean Air Agency; 
  • Lane Regional Air Protection Agency;  
  • Oregon Health Authority;  
  • Missoula City-County Health Department;  
  • Hoopa Valley Tribe;
  • California Air Resources Board;  
  • U.S. Department of State; 
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Environmental Health;
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; and
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology.  

The challenge is now open, and proposals will be accepted through May 17, 2021.

To learn more about the challenge and how to apply, visit: https://www.epa.gov/air-research/cleaner-indoor-air-during-wildfires-challenge

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