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Smoke Sense Study: A Citizen Science Project Using a Mobile App

Download the 2018 Updated Smoke Sense App today.

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EPA researchers initiated a citizen science project called Smoke Sense. This project has two broad objectives. The first to increase awareness of the known health effects associated with exposure to wildfire smoke.The second is to further advance the scientific understanding of that relationship, specifically to: 

  • Understand the subclinical health impacts of wildland fire smoke 
  • Discover how people protect their health during smoke exposure 
  • Develop effective strategies to communicate health risks from smoke exposure 

Individuals who want to contribute to science can participate in the study by using the Smoke Sense app, a publicly available mobile application on the Google Play Store and the App Store.   

The study is the first of its kind known to use a mobile application to evaluate health effects from wildland fires experienced by those who participate, and to test whether health risks can be communicated effectively through resources and engagement delivered with the app.   

Smoke Sense app users participate anonymously and their identities are not captured

Why are we conducting this study?  

Wildland fires produce smoke, and smoke contains air pollution that adversely impacts people’s health. Exposure to wildland fire smoke increases visits to emergency rooms and clinics for problems related to asthma and other respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.  As the incidence and intensity of large wildland fires increase in the United States, more people will be exposed to unsafe levels of particulate matter (PM) and other pollutants from smoke. This public health problem brings need for new and innovative scientific approaches to communicate health risks of exposure of smoke from fires to at-risk populations and communities.   

Current air pollution health risk communication strategies have solid footing in science and are widely used across communities to protect public health.  These strategies include: outreach by EPA on air quality and the Air Quality Index, public health advisories, and educational campaigns. However, it is not known whether these strategies are equally effective in protecting public health during wildland fire smoke episodes and whether they are accessible to those who are affected by smoke when they need it. 

Exposure to wildland fire smoke can be sudden and unexpected, last hours to weeks, and affect communities that may or may not have a public health response plan to reduce the adverse impacts of smoke exposure. EPA is continuing to advance the science and technology required to understand the impacts of smoke on air quality and public health.  Combining science with communication tools can improve delivery and timing of information about the health risks of smoke to those who are impacted by wildland fires, either near the fire or downwind.  

Contact for the study and the app: SmokeSense@epa.gov.  

 

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