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State monitoring air quality in neighborhoods affected by Marshall Fire

“We’re not coming back until we can have the air tested for toxicity, like not just the smell, but the chemicals in the air," one resident said.

BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. — The physical damage the Marshall Fire had on Boulder County is evident, but now, officials' concerns turn toward the damage they cannot see. 

Boulder County and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) are installing air quality monitors in burned neighborhoods this week. The goal is to measure the toxins in the area. CDPHE will also have a mobile air quality monitor driving through neighborhoods to expand their results.

“That mix of stuff that burned is what we think are the most toxic kind of particulates,” Dr. Anthony Gerber, a pulmonologist with National Jewish Health, said. “Unfortunately and tragically, homes and cars and all sorts of other non-natural items were incinerated, and so it’s not just like smoke from a normal wood fire. There’s really potential for other elements to be aerosolized and pushed into peoples homes.”

That is a concern Laura Collins had on Wednesday morning. The mother of two lives downwind from the fire. She’s grateful her home is still standing, but concerned about what was inside of it.

“You’re thinking, well, what smoke is in the air? What’s in the house?” she said. “We’re not coming back until we can have the air tested for toxicity, like not just the smell, but the chemicals in the air.”

Collins said her home did have some smoke damage, and a restoration company confirmed to her on Wednesday that there was soot on all three levels of her home. Collins wondered what long-term impacts living in those particles could have on people.

“To what extent over time that that might cause problems, is a little bit harder to study,” Gerber said. “It’s an area unfortunately we might have to do more research, with as many wildfires as we’re getting.”

Gerber said residents should use common sense. If items smell like fire, you may want to throw them out. He also suggested if there is visible soot, clean it immediately. The last thing people want is to kick it back up and breathe it in again.

Collins hopes more residents are proactive in checking on the air quality and safety of their homes.

“Like for ash to get into a sealed window and just knowing the wind and seeing the path of the fire, I can only imagine how much was blowing through here,” she said as she stood in her home with a mask and air purifier running.

“To know that if my kids grab a toy that they’re not touching toxic things, that’s going to be huge, because right now I’m just like you can’t really get anything in the house because I’m not educated enough to know how toxic it is," she said.

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