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Indoor air quality becomes growing concern, as wildfire smoke recurs in Pacific Northwest

A Bellevue company's technology could one day help gauge indoor risks due to outdoor smoke.

BELLEVUE, Wash — In a week of hazardous and unhealthy wildfire smoke that has blanketed much of Washington, the official recommendation from authorities is to stay inside.

But how safe is indoor air? 

One of the people who wants to know is Scott Waller, of Thingy LLC in Bellevue.

A former Microsoft techie and volunteer firefighter with Eastside Fire & Rescue, Waller started three years ago to set up his company to establish sensor networks that can detect, among other things, smoke

A year ago he took the indoor air quality-tracking business full-time.

He's looking at the bigger picture — creating a network of indoor sensors telling us what the smoke risk is inside.

“Really, the hardest part is how to connect all the devices into the internet, something that’s meaningful for researchers, policymakers, for us as a consumer. I want to know what that indoor air quality is,” Waller said.

Waller is also working with the University of Washington on the effects of smoke on Washington’s huge agriculture industry in eastern Washington. 

In his Bellevue garage, Waller demonstrated how something as simple as a box fan with a MERV 14 air filter can filter out the smallest particles of wildfire soot. The homemade contraption quickly brought down the level of pollution once the door was closed.

But what happens when the fan is turned off? 

“Just because it’s clean, doesn’t mean it’s going to stay clean,” Waller said.  “If I was to shut the fans off and leave the door closed, eventually it will equalize to the outside, I’ve seen in the last week.”