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Study provides insights on the safety of DIY air cleaners and actionable information to help Americans stay safe during a wildfire

ATLANTA – Aug. 26, 2021 –In response to the growing threat of wildfires in the U.S. where an average of 7.5 million acres have been impacted over the last 10 years, Chemical Insights Research Institute of Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) with support of UL’s Fire Safety Research Institute has partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Research and Development to provide scientific information to help Americans stay safe during wildfire events. Wildfires can be a source of particle and chemical air pollution that can infiltrate homes and impact the respiratory and cardiovascular health of occupants. As a result, many consumers are turning to the use of air cleaners to help filter out the pollution.

As commercial air cleaners can be difficult to obtain during wildfires due to supply constraints and cost, many health and state air quality agencies and nonprofit organizations have begun providing instructions for consumers to make DIY air cleaners by attaching a furnace filter to a standard box fan. Although research is continuing, initial data suggest that these DIY units can be effective in reducing particle pollution from smoke.

However, concerns have been raised about the box fan with filter attached posing a potential fire or human burn risk. To better understand the safe use of DIY air cleaners, UL and EPA scientists partnered on research to evaluate this risk. At UL facilities, a series of commercially available box fans were fitted with filters laden with smoke and routine household dust representative of wildfire pollution and were research tested to the protocols of UL 507, a global safety standard for electric fans used by numerous testing and verification organizations. Under these test conditions, and more extreme conditions where both sides of the fans were blocked, there were no observable fire hazards or human burn risks during testing. The full research report can be reviewed here.

Due to the wide range of variability in the types of fans and filters available for use and how DIY cleaners can be built or operated, UL and the EPA cannot assure these results are representative of all scenarios. However, when basic safety precautions are followed, DIY units may provide valuable reduction of hazardous wildfire air pollution. Learn about safety tips for using DIY cleaners here.

This initiative builds upon Chemical Insights Research Institute’s ongoing research projects on environmental pollution and its impact on human health, including the toxicity of vaping and e-cigarettes, 3D printing emissions, flame retardants and furniture flammability and global air pollution. Further research will evaluate the effectiveness of DIY air cleaners as well as the health impact of wildfire emissions exposure to communities.

About Chemical Insights Research Institute

As an Institute of Underwriters Laboratories, we deliver the scientific insight policymakers, healthcare providers, business leaders and consumers depend on to make informed environmental health decisions. Combining the best minds, rigorous scientific research and a commitment for thorough and accurate results, Chemical Insights Research Institute is improving the health of people and the planet.

Our work lets people around the world know what chemicals are in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the products we interact with every day. Our research and initiatives give them the knowledge of exactly what those chemicals are, how they may affect human health, and how to manage their impact.

Our leadership role is to provide science or knowledge to implement improved practices, alternative product design, and changes that enable safer products and healthier environments.

To learn more, please visit chemicalinsights.org/.

About Underwriters Laboratories

Underwriters Laboratories is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the UL public safety mission through the discovery and application of scientific knowledge. We conduct rigorous independent research and analyze safety data, convene experts worldwide to address risks, share knowledge through safety education and public outreach initiatives, and develop standards to guide safe commercialization of evolving technologies. We foster communities of safety, from grassroots initiatives for neighborhoods to summits of world leaders. Our organization employs collaborative and scientific approaches with partners and stakeholders to drive innovation and progress toward improving safety, security, and sustainability, ultimately enhancing societal well-being. To learn more, visit UL.org.

Visit EPA’s DIY air cleaners research page to learn more about research on indoor air cleaners

Visit EPA’s research page on wildland fires

 Related Links:

  • Learn more about how to reduce your exposure on AirNow.gov’s Fire and Health web page
  • Learn how to be smoke ready for wildfires by using the Smoke-Ready Toolbox for Wildfires
  • Learn about air cleaners and air filters in the home
  • Learn how to make a clean air room in your home
  • Learn how to make and use a DIY air cleaner

Press Contact:

Denise Rushing
Chemical Insights Research Institute
Denise.Rushing@ul.org

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