School of Medicine

37 Interventional Assessment of Air Quality on Low-Income Homes in Salt Lake County

Monica-Rae Owens (University of Utah); Camden Alexander (University of Utah); Scott Collingwood (Pediatrics, University of Utah); and Marco Lorenzo Allain (University of Utah)

Faculty Mentor: Scott Collingwood (Pediatrics, University of Utah)



Salt Lake Valley is notorious1 for its air pollution, which occurs when harmful matter enters the atmosphere. Our air pollution consists of particulate matter2 (PM2.5), ozone3, and arsenic4, which come from vehicles, homes, and industrial emissions. Poor air quality has been linked to adverse health outcomes5, such as higher rates of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and respiratory diseases. The study’s objective is to assess whether in-home interventions reduce air pollution and improve participant health. Methods include collecting air quality data within participant homes and implementing home improvements and renovations, including but not limited to installing HVAC systems, replacing swamp coolers with central AC, installing HEPA filters, and reinforcing shelter features. The study is in its elementary stages. Therefore, results have not been finalized.

Utahns have consistently cited air quality as a top concern6 and have reason to be considering Utah’s historic7 air quality problems. Throughout the year, Utah’s consistent pollutants come from vehicle exhaust, industrial processes, and home and business emissions, although the seasons offer different pollutants. In summer, wildfire smoke8 and ozone levels are pollutants that lower Utah’s air quality to some of the worst9 in the world. And in winter, PM2.5 levels and the inversion10 from the mountains adds to the poor air quality. This study hopes to reconcile Utah’s poor air quality with implementable solutions tailored to Utah citizens, specifically Salt Lake County occupants. The Green and Healthy Homes Initiative11 is a national organization aimed at providing home improvements and housing strategies to create safe, healthy, and energy-efficient housing for low-income families. The Salt Lake County study serves as a pilot interventional research project with the home acting as the research entity. Salt Lake County funds12 the initiative, providing the resources and compensation needed to carry out necessary home interventions. The study intends to increase awareness of methods to reduce air pollution and improve public health, which could serve as advocation for policy change at the state level.


Ten low-income homes were recruited through the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative and enrolled in the Salt Lake County research study. After recruitment, calibrated air quality sensors are deployed into participants’ homes, and a pre-intervention assessment of air quality is conducted to serve as a baseline reading. Air quality sensors will then provide a summary of exposures to the participants that can be used to determine areas for home improvements and/or interventions. Possible interventions include installing proper drainage, pollutant detectors, and energy-efficient appliances, reducing clutter, improving ventilation systems, eliminating pests and pest openings, repairing and cleaning homes, and reducing the usage of dangerous cleaning products. Salt Lake County will provide the resources and compensation needed to complete the home improvements and interventions. Upon completion of the study, a post-intervention assessment will be conducted, and the air quality sensor data will be analyzed to determine if interventions were successful in improving air quality and environmental health outcomes.


The air quality sensors that are installed in participants’ homes are low-cost sensors calibrated to a high-quality DustTrak monitor. A mixture of ammonium nitrate and deionized water is aerosolized by an atomizer and dried in a chamber of silica beads. Once the ammonium nitrate is airborne, it simulates the fine particulate matter mass such as PM2.5. The particulate matter is then pulled through a spiral chamber via the gas flow allowing the particulate matter to hit the low-cost sensors stationed at the bottom of the chamber. The low-cost sensors measure PM2.5 at varying concentrations that the DustTrak monitor has set. Once the calibration session is concluded, the values that are recorded by the DustTrak monitor and the low-cost sensors are linearly modeled, and a best-fit line is applied to represent the calibration curve. Calibrating the low-cost sensors is an affirmative step that allows for precise and accurate measurements of air quality in participants’ homes.


The Salt Lake Valley experiences adverse air pollution with inversion most prominent10 in winter, contributing to high PM2.5 levels. Limitations of this study are the possibility of pre-intervention assessments conducted during winter months’ inversion, which can affect data comparison of post-intervention assessments, which would take place in the absence of the inversion. Results of this study may raise concern for its validity if there is a significant discrepancy in air quality measurements.


This pilot study will allow researchers to conduct future large-scale studies that implement housing strategies and interventions to contribute to safe, healthy, and energy-efficient homes. Providing participants with a summary of exposures will aid them in making necessary lifestyle changes and necessary home interventions to improve their air quality and energy efficiency. The goal of this study is to provide supporting evidence of how effective home interventions are in improving air quality and health to implement policy change. Policy changes that adopt home-interventions as necessary solutions for improving air quality and health could lead to fewer sick days, fewer health-related complications, less spending on utilities, and fewer dollars spent on ER visits, health insurance, and other health-related costs. This study offers further exploration in hopes of advocating for policy change and better air quality practices to reduce dollars spent on health care.


The research presented in this journal is supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under award number R25ES031497.


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    7. Carter Williams, K. S. L. (2021, September 23). ‘it’s not a new problem’: Looking back at the ‘untold’ history of Utah air quality.
    8. Dyaniwood. (2022, February 11). Air quality conditions during wildfires. Utah Department of Environmental Quality. KUER 90.1. (2021, November 11). Utah had the worst air in the world today – here’s what you need to know to be safe. KUER. Retrieved July 19, 2022, from https://www -the-worst-air-in-the-world-today-heres-what-you-need-to-know-to-be-safe 
    9. (2021, May 21). Inversions. Utah Department of Environmental Quality. Retrieved July 19, 2022, from
    10. Homepage. Green & Healthy Homes Initiative. (2022, March 7). Retrieved July 19, 2022, from
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RANGE: Undergraduate Research Journal Copyright © 2022 by Monica-Rae Owens (University of Utah); Camden Alexander (University of Utah); Scott Collingwood (Pediatrics, University of Utah); and Marco Lorenzo Allain (University of Utah) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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