What is Smoke Sense?
The Smoke Sense Project is a crowdsourcing, citizen science research project developed by EPA researchers whose primary objective is issue awareness and engagement and research questions related to:
- Understanding the extent to which exposure to wildland fire smoke affects health and productivity,
- Discovering what steps people are willing to take to reduce their exposure, and,
- Developing health risk communication strategies that improve public health on smoke days.
Smoke Sense is a research endeavor that relies on the use of an interactive mobile application by the public to collect information and user engagement. The project also serves as an educational tool and resource to increase awareness and encourage people to take steps to protect their health from smoke during a wildfire or prescribed burning of land. There is also a K-12 educational component of the project that is being developed for teachers to use in the classroom.
EPA launched the pilot study with the release of the Smoke Sense app in August 2017. The app has been updated and redeployed in August 2018. We expect that as new resources become available, Smoke Sense app will undergo additional changes.
What information is available on the Smoke Sense app?
Individuals can learn about current and future air quality, wildland fires and smoke health risks in their area by downloading and using the app. They can also report their health symptoms, and the range of actions they are able or willing to take to improve their health condition or lower their exposure. Users will also earn in-app rewards for participating.
What upgrades or changes are in the 2018 app?
Based on an evaluation of the pilot and feedback from users and interested groups, several updates have been made to improve the mobile app. These changes include user interface upgrades as well as added modules, which engage the user in learning about smoke exposure and thinking about their health. Updates that users can look forward to include:
- Current air quality dashboard will display concentrations of fine particulate matter and ozone with the time stamp of last measurement. Current research shows that both pollutants are affected by wildfires.
- Users will be able to access the most current information about individual fires.
- Users will be able to view maps of hourly forecasts of smoke and ozone across the continental US.
- Users will be able to learn about and test your knowledge of wildfire smoke exposure in the Smoke Smarts module.
- Upgraded graphics.
- Streamlined user tutorials and information buttons.
Are there any results or findings from the 2017 pilot?
We are still analyzing the data and plan to publish the findings from the pilot in 2018. Additional publications are planned after the second year of the study.
Why is EPA conducting this study?
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 specifically effective in protecting public health during wildland fire smoke episodes. Exposure to wildland fire smoke can be acute and unexpected, last hours to weeks, and affect communities that may not have a public health response plan to reduce the adverse impacts of smoke exposure.
EPA is advancing the science and technology required to understand the impacts of smoke on air quality and public health. Combining science and technology with mobile communication tools can improve delivery and timing of information to inform decision making and health protective behaviors.
Who can participate in the Smoke Sense Study?
All individuals, above 18 years of age, who want to contribute to science can participate in the study by using the Smoke Sense app. This is a nationwide study and the app is publicly available on the Google Play Store for Android devices and on the App Store for iOS devices. Smoke Sense app user identities will be anonymous and non-identifiable.
How can participants benefit from using the Smoke Sense App?
The Smoke Sense app allows the user to log health symptoms weekly over the length of the study period. By logging these symptoms, users may get a better understanding of the impact that air quality and smoke has on their health.
The app provides air quality information obtained from EPA’s Air Quality Index, available on AirNow.gov. This information includes the current and forecasted air quality by zip code and a map showing current fires visible from satellite and smoke plumes, giving the user valuable information about their environment.
The app encourages engagement through Smoke Smarts Air Quality 101 modules about air quality, impacts of air pollution on health and ways to reduce those impacts.
How do I get the Smoke Sense app?
I used the app in 2017. Do I need to reinstall it to get the update?
Smoke Sense app will update on your device in the same way all other apps do. If you have auto-update enabled, the app will update when the next version becomes available.
What type of information is being collected?
We are learning how long individuals are exposed to wildland fire smoke and the health symptoms they experience. We are also collecting information on health protective behaviors people take in response to any exposures they report. Users can anonymously submit demographic and health information.
Where does the data collected from the app go?
All data received from the app is stored on a secure server and is used exclusively for the Smoke Sense study. The app will not request or store any information on user identity. This study has been reviewed and approved by University of North Carolina Institutional Review Board and EPA’s Human Research Protocol Office at the National Health and Environmental Effect Research Laboratory, Office of Research and Development.
How is EPA using the data?
EPA researchers will use this data to better understand the impacts of wildland fire smoke on public health and to gain insight on improving health risk communication strategies. The findings from the study will be peer-reviewed for scientific publication and published on the EPA website. Individual data will not be released or published, only aggregate data in which all the data has been combined. Public health officials or others can request the data to inform decisions in their area.
Will personal information be taken or shared?
The Smoke Sense app does not collect identifying information such as names, addresses, locations, email addresses, phone numbers, mobile device identifiers, etc. Individual data will not be released or published, only aggregate data in which all the data has been combined.
Where does EPA get the air quality and wildland fire data shown in the app?
The current and forecasted air quality data and the wildland fire data provided in the app are obtained from AirNow.gov, which is generated from partnerships with several federal agencies.
Why am I not getting weekly reminders to log my symptoms?
If a user wishes to receive a reminder every Monday to log the symptoms from the previous week, they must turn on their push notifications for this application.
What are wildland fires?
Wildland fire is a general term describing wildfires and prescribed burns. Wildfires are caused by lightning or other natural causes or arson that results in the burning of trees and other vegetation. Prescribed burns are planned fires, which are conducted for forest or grassland ecosystem management.
What geographic region does Smoke Sense represent?
The app shows air quality and wildland fire information in the United States.
Contact for the study: SmokeSense@epa.gov.
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