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Every Breath You Take: An Indoor Smog Story

A woman cooks lunch in her house in Manila.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Thanks to federal regulations, our outdoor air has half the emissions from harmful gases that it had four decades ago.

Sounds great, right? Except Americans spend around 90 percent of their lives indoors, according to an EPA-funded study.

So what do we know about the air we breathe inside? Turns out, very little.

Here’s The New Yorker’s Nicola Twilley:

Unlike outdoor air, the air inside our homes is largely unregulated and has been all but ignored by researchers. We know barely the first thing about the atmospheres in which we spend the vast majority of our time. HOMEchem—House Observations of Microbial and Environmental Chemistry—was the world’s first large-scale collaborative investigation into the chemistry of indoor air […] But the experiment’s early results are just now emerging, and they seem to show that the combined emissions of humans and their daily activities—cooking, cleaning, metabolizing—are more interesting, and potentially more lethal, than anyone had imagined.

Last year, 60 scientists convened for the HOMEchem Project at the University of Texas-Austin — where they cooked, cleaned and performed other household duties in a ranch house on the university’s engineering campus. With a half-million dollars’ worth of high-end tech equipment, they measured the impact of these activities on the air inside.

We speak with one of the scientists behind the study about what they found.

Show produced by Haili Blassingame. Text by Kathryn Fink.


Delphine Farmer, Chemist; associate professor, Colorado State University; @ChemDelphine

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