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Using low-cost air quality sensors to estimate wildfire smoke infiltration into childcare facilities in British Columbia, Canada

  • Lee, Michael Joseph
  • Dickson, James M
  • Greif, Ophir
  • Ho, William
  • Henderson, Sarah B
  • Mallach, Gary
  • Coker, Eric S
Published Article
Environmental Research: Health
IOP Publishing
Publication Date
Feb 02, 2024
DOI: 10.1088/2752-5309/ad1fd6


The health risks associated with wildfires are expected to increase due to climate change. Children are susceptible to wildfire smoke, but little is known about indoor smoke exposure at childcare facilities. The objective of this analysis was to estimate the effects of outdoor PM2.5 and wildfire smoke episodes on indoor PM2.5 at childcare facilities across British Columbia, Canada. We installed low-cost air-quality sensors inside and outside 45 childcare facilities and focused our analysis on operational hours (Monday–Friday, 08:00–18:00) during the 2022 wildfire season (01 August–31 October). Using random-slope random-intercept linear mixed effects regression, we estimated the overall and facility-specific effects of outdoor PM2.5 on indoor PM2.5, while accounting for covariates. We examined how wildfire smoke affected this relationship by separately analyzing days with and without wildfire smoke. Average indoor PM2.5 increased by 235% on wildfire days across facilities. There was a positive relationship between outdoor and indoor PM2.5 that was not strongly influenced by linear adjustment for meteorological and area-based socio-economic factors. A 1.0 μg m−3 increase in outdoor PM2.5 was associated with a 0.55 μg m−3 [95% CI: 0.47, 0.63] increase indoors on non-wildfire smoke days and 0.51 μg m−3 [95% CI: 0.44, 0.58] on wildfire-smoke days. Facility-specific regression coefficients of the effect of outdoor PM2.5 on indoor PM2.5 was variable between facilities on wildfire (0.18–0.79 μg m−3) and non-wildfire days (0.11–1.03 μg m−3). Indoor PM2.5 responded almost immediately to increased outdoor PM2.5 concentrations. Across facilities, 89% and 93% of the total PM2.5 infiltration over 60 min occurred within the first 10 min following an increase in outdoor PM2.5 on non-wildfire and wildfire days, respectively. We found that indoor PM2.5 in childcare facilities increased with outdoor PM2.5. This effect varied between facilities and between wildfire-smoke and non-wildfire smoke days. These findings highlight the importance of air quality monitoring at childcare facilities for informed decision-making.

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