Chalky, ominous clouds of wildfire smoke tell a grim story. That smoke—and air in general—can be even more problematic than it appears. Air quality is linked to acute and chronic health issues and clean air is invaluable.
Wildfire smoke is filled with a wide variety of molecules: harmless ones like water vapor and oxygen, as well as more than 400 toxins including ozone and formaldehyde, to name a few. Emerging research suggests that wildfire smoke also contains living organisms such as bacteria and mold that can carry and spread infectious diseases.
This smoke is dirtier than ever. In the past, wildfire smoke was fueled by natural materials from the forest or grasslands. Now, urban sprawl is being added into the wildfire’s path. What’s in the air during a wildfire isn’t only a local concern. The smoke can travel thousands of miles, riding the wind across continents and oceans and changing along the way.
Dr. Mary Prunicki, Director of Air Pollution and Health at Stanford Hospital, explains, “Those particles, as they travel, they age, and when they age, they become more toxic to our health.”
Over time, the smoke’s molecules interact with other molecules in the atmosphere. A chemical reaction called oxidation occurs, in which a molecule loses electrons, producing free radicals that can damage cells and tissues.
When people inhale wildfire smoke, the smallest particles can travel through the lungs, entering the bloodstream and contributing to immediate health issues such as respiratory illness. Prunicki and other researchers are also studying links between wildfire smoke and long-term issues including increased inflammation, problems with overall immune health, and risk of heart disease and stroke.
Wildfire smoke is pungent and visible, but there are many subtle threats to our health hiding in the air we breathe every day. Even in the comfort of home, irritating vapors can lurk long after the paint dries. Cooking fumes can migrate from the kitchen to the bedroom. And outdoor air issues including wildfire smoke, industrial pollution, and vehicle emissions affect indoor air quality, too.
With all these risks, it would be nice to do something to breathe easier. But we can’t live in a bubble. So what can people do with the air we’ve got?
One way to manage indoor air is ensuring proper ventilation, using fans or simply opening doors and windows to let fresh air inside (when outdoor air quality is good). Another layer of protection is traditional air filters, which trap pollutants. And now, there’s new air purification technology called PECO (Photo Electrochemical Oxidation).
“Up until now, we’ve just had filters that collect pollutants on the surface of these fabrics, whereas what we do with PECO is we both capture and destroy these pollutants,” says Dilip Goswami, Co-Founder, President & CTO, Molekule.
Molekule tests have shown how PECO air purification technology breaks down pollutants like viruses, bacteria, mold, allergens, and chemicals. Inside a Molekule air purifier, light powers a chemical reaction that breaks down and destroys pollutants as they interact with a filter that is coated with a proprietary nanocatalyst.
As wildfires become more frequent and intense, air quality is becoming a more common topic of conversation, and with good reason. From wildfire smoke to everyday pollutants and everything in between, the air we breathe is complicated and always changing.
“We breathe over 20,000 times a day,” says Goswami. “Yet, we rarely think: how clean is the air that’s actually going into my lungs?”