Case Study: How Air Quality Monitoring Can Help Reduce Wildfire Smoke Exposure

  • Topic: Air Quality Monitoring During Wildfire 
  • Industry: Air Quality Monitoring, Air Quality Technology, Community Development 
  • Author: Adrian Dybwad 
  • Website:


From having an itchy throat to experiencing difficulty breathing, the effects of wildfire smoke on human health are undeniable. However, what makes it even more dangerous is that it can harm communities thousands of miles away. That’s because wildfire smoke can quickly travel long distances, causing air pollution, even in neighboring countries, to spike within hours.  

While wildfires are often unavoidable, that doesn’t mean you’re completely powerless against them.  

A recent air quality study found that you can reduce the impact of wildfire smoke through air quality monitoring. With real-time updates from air quality monitors, you can take immediate and informed actions to minimize smoke exposure.  

In this air quality case study, we’re discussing how air quality monitoring can help individuals and communities protect themselves during wildfire season. 

How Do Wildfires Affect Air Quality? 

Wildfires affect air quality by releasing high levels of air pollution into the atmosphere as they burn vegetation, forests, and land. These pollutants include particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, carbon dioxide, ozone, and aromatic hydrocarbons.  

In fact, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that wildfire smoke contributes an estimated 43% of total national annual carbon monoxide emissions and 44% of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) emissions from 2011-2017.  

Additionally, wildfire smoke can travel long and short distances, depending on its severity, wind direction, and wind speed. Small wildfires primarily impact the communities nearest to the source as smoke remains in the lower regions of the atmosphere, limiting its reach.   

On the other hand, larger wildfires can shoot up into the stratosphere, allowing it to travel long distances. This is why wildfire smoke from Canada can reach as far as Los Angeles and New York. 

What Does Wildfire Smoke Do To Your Health? 

Because wildfires contaminate the air with harmful pollutants, people within its vicinity can experience multiple health issues. The Centers for Disease and Control Prevention lists the following symptoms of poor air quality from wildfires:   

  • Coughing 
  • Wheezing 
  • Stinging eyes 
  • Scratchy throat 
  • Irritated sinuses  
  • Trouble breathing  
  • Headaches 
  • Chest pain 
  • Asthma attack 
  • Fast heartbeat 

Beyond this, wildfire smoke releases dangerous levels of PM2.5, which can surpass the body’s defenses and cause long-term damage. According to the EPA, particle pollution exposure can lead to reduced lung function and pulmonary inflammation. It can also inhibit the body’s ability to defend itself against viruses and bacteria, increasing the chances of developing pulmonary diseases.  

For people with pre-existing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, PM2.5 can exacerbate these illnesses and even lead to premature death. However, by staying informed during high pollution events like wildfire, you can take immediate, life-saving action that can benefit your health in the short and long run. 

How Communities Exposed to Wildfires Can Benefit from Air Quality Monitoring 

In a 2021 air quality study, a group of researchers wanted to determine the impact of wildfire smoke on indoor air quality. The reason behind this was that people spend the majority of their time indoors during a wildfire. As such, they’re mostly exposed to indoor air pollution caused by wildfires rather than ambient air pollution.  

The study used the data from PurpleAir air quality monitors, as it is one of the most extensive air quality networks in the world. During the time of the study, there were over 15,000 active PurpleAir monitors with data that were available to the public. Moreover, the information from these devices showed real-time, hyper-local air quality data, making it one of the best air quality monitors for wildfire smoke.  

They found that while indoor air quality worsened during wildfire days, the air quality indoors was comparatively better than outdoors. This led them to conclude that air quality monitors helped raise air quality wildfire awareness, prompting many to act to reduce wildfire exposure 

They also discovered that areas with air quality regulations also help reduce indoor air quality wildfire smoke. For example, California has set standards for indoor air ventilation and filtration for residential buildings, mitigating the effects of wildfire pollution.  

These findings are echoed by EPA’s air quality research, which reported that about 46% of people took preventive action against wildfire air pollution after hearing a public service announcement.   

Why Air Quality Monitors Are Just One Part of the Solution 

Although researchers recognized that air quality monitors during wildfires can help mitigate air pollution exposure, it isn’t the only solution. Researchers also noted that education and regulations play an equally important part.  

Through education, people understand the air quality data and determine the most effective courses of action to take. At the same time, regulations like that in California help improve the facilities and tools that people can use to protect themselves from wildfire smoke’s indoor air quality.   

This is why PurpleAir doesn’t only make air quality data accessible through our air quality monitors and free air quality map, but we also share educational resources that help spread awareness about air quality. This includes tips on how to build a clean room, create a wildfire emergency plan, and set up a DIY box fan air purifier 

Together, we can be informed and make changes to our daily habits and the community to improve air quality. 

About PurpleAir

Since being founded in 2018, PurpleAir has dedicated itself to providing highly precise air quality monitors that track hyper-local air quality levels in real time. In doing this, PurpleAir is empowering community scientists and helping to facilitate social change through accessible air quality data for all. By working together, everyone is more informed and able to make changes in their local communities.