Breathe. Boston firm wins EPA clean indoor air challenge

BOSTON – (Feb. 22, 2024) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the winners of the “Cleaner Indoor Air During Wildfires” Challenge. One of the two winners – who received a prize of $50,000 for their innovative prototype designed to clean indoor air during wildfires – was Metalmark Innovations, Inc. of Boston, Mass.

“Wildland fires destroy air quality, can clog air monitors and damage lungs with copious amount of pollutants, and force you and your family indoors to avoid the hazardous health risks they create,” said EPA Regional Administrator David W. Cash. “We got a taste of the bad air from Canada’s wildfires last summer, but it’s unimaginably worse when you live closer to a burning forest or fields. Heartfelt congratulations and thanks to our winners who came up with novel technologies that have the potential to provide effective and lower cost options to those who truly need it to breathe clean air when surviving wildfire events.”

The acreage burned by wildfire in the U.S. has increased for the last three decades and is predicted to continue to increase in the future. Wildfires release many pollutants that worsen air quality in surrounding areas. Particle pollution, specifically fine particulate matter (PM2.5 or particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers), is a significant component of wildfire smoke and a known health risk.

Wildfire smoke exposure is particularly harmful for people with pre-existing health conditions, such as asthma, lung disease or cardiovascular disease. Smoke can spread many miles during wildfires causing poor air quality that can lead to significant health effects in surrounding communities. Smoke exposures during wildfires can be reduced by staying indoors with closed doors and windows and cleaning the indoor air, if possible.

Current indoor air cleaning technologies have multiple limitations that prevent widespread use, including the cost of purchase, operation, and maintenance, as well as noise levels and dependence on electrical power, which wildfires or rolling blackouts can disrupt.

To address these limitations, EPA developed this Challenge to focus attention on the problem, inspire the development of innovative solutions, and spur the market to commercialize effective solutions. Phase One Challenge Winners developed detailed design proposals for affordable approaches to keep indoor air as clean as possible during periods when outdoor PM2.5 concentrations are elevated, such as during wildfire smoke events. Winners and honorable mentions from this first phase of the Challenge were invited to submit prototypes of their technologies for evaluation in the second phase of the Challenge.

During Phase Two of the Challenge, five teams submitted prototype technologies for evaluation. EPA worked closely with partners from federal, state, and local agencies as well as academia and industry to assess the prototypes through qualitative and quantitative evaluations.

Phase Two award winner Metalmark’s Clean Air Device uses a novel nanomaterial coating on a filter to enable self-cleaning, prolonging the life of the filter and thereby minimizing the operating costs. It was proposed by Sissi Liu, Tanya Shirman, and Elijah Shirman of Metalmark Innovations, Inc., of Boston, Mass.

More information:

Read the full descriptions of winning and honorable mention proposals at: www.epa.gov/air-research/winners-cleaner-indoor-air-during-wildfires-challenge

Learn more about EPA’s wildfire research at: www.epa.gov/air-research/wildland-fire-research-protect-health-and-environment

Check out the air quality in your neighborhood at airnow.gov.

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