Mobile Harmful Contaminant Detection System: Home Health Kit for the detection of Allergens, Chemicals and Viruses

A tool for simply and affordably assessing levels of certain household allergens (including asthma triggers), chemical contaminants (formaldehyde) and viruses (including SARS-CoV-2).

The Need

Household allergens (including Asthma triggers)

Asthma is one of the most common chronic conditions among children in the United States and a major cause of childhood disability. Despite advances in medical treatment, many children have poor asthma control that results in disruptions in school attendance, extracurricular activities, exercise, and sleep. Economically, the impact of asthma is attributable to billions in additional medical costs, and ultimately thousands of deaths annually. There is a need to incorporate new approaches into treatments that go beyond the current standards of care.

One current treatment approach is to reduce the exposure to asthma triggers within households. The detection of triggers and prevention of asthmatic episodes would simultaneously improve the quality of life for asthmatics, but also result in cost savings to individuals, medical providers, and insurers. Unfortunately, specific trigger identification within the home can be difficult.

There is not yet a specific test for in-office or in-home clinician use to determine home exposure to environmental triggers, in contrast to the sophisticated diagnostics and medication options for asthma. Such a test would allow clinicians to pinpoint problematic home exposures and focus finite resources to reduce the most problematic exposures. This could improve asthma control and reduce overall medication use, leading to reductions in adverse medical outcomes. In addition to identifying asthma-specific triggers, a mobile test could be applied to other household allergens for use by the broad public with specific sensitivities.

Chemical Contaminants (Formaldehyde)

Formaldehyde is present in nearly every home, with some homes having elevated levels. Formaldehyde is an eye, nose, throat, and skin irritant, and a known human carcinogen. Some people may be particularly sensitive to exposure, even at lower levels, and thus at higher risk of health complications. The current indoor measurement systems are time-consuming, difficult, expensive, and require large analytical equipment and specialized knowledge to operate and maintain. There is a gap in the market requiring an easily accessible and affordable measurement option for individuals who may want to measure their exposure. In addition to identifying formaldehyde, a mobile test could be applied to other household contaminants for use by the broad public with specific chemical sensitivities.


The detection of viral contaminants in indoor environments is a critical tool to mitigate viral transmission. For example, SARS-CoV-2 viral particles are emitted primarily via respiratory droplets and aerosols and can persist on indoor surfaces, including carpet. Carpet collects dust and serves as both a source and a sink for indoor contaminants. Carpet is present in a multitude of indoor facilities including those that are used by large and varied populations (i.e., clinics, classrooms, office environments).

There is a critical need for targeted, efficient, and inexpensive methods to monitor SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses to identify potential viral outbreaks prior to extensive spread. Indoor dust provides an important matrix for environmental surveillance of viral disease outbreaks and can validate the effectiveness of sanitization efforts. To help prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses from carpet and dust, this technology needs to be adaptable, which requires it to be portable, low cost and provide accurate results.

The Technology

Researchers at The Ohio State University, led by Dr. Karen Dannemiller, are developing a smartphone-based application that offers better detection of allergens [Better Recognition of Exposure to Asthma Triggers in the Home Environment using Smartphones (BREATHES)] and chemical contaminants [Smartphone App for Residential Testing of Formaldehyde (SmART-Form)] in indoor environments. The app utilizes image processing algorithms paired with color changing badges to detect allergens or formaldehyde. For allergen detection, users will be able to collect samples from dust or fabric with a swab, mix the sample with a solution and apply it to color-changing areas on the badge. For formaldehyde detection, the badge changes color when exposed to the contaminant in the air (Figure 1). The badges have a color calibration patch used by the smartphone app to determine the color change linked to a particular contaminant. The app is expected to be able to detect cockroach, dust mite, and mouse samples, with plans to include dog, cat, mold, formaldehyde, and carpet and dust viral contamination.

Figure 1. Formaldehyde detection mobile application (SmART-Form).

Commercial Applications

  • DIY testing
  • Allergen detection
  • Virus detection (including SARS-CoV-2)
  • Chemical detection (formaldehyde)


  • Ease of use for end-users
  • Low cost via a free mobile application and low cost, liquid testing solution
  • Accurate results provided immediately to users
  • Portable/Mobile


A PCT Patent Application was recently filed.


Smartphone App for Residential Testing of Formaldehyde (SmART-Form)

Building and Environment 148 (2019) 567–578

Indoor Dust as a Matrix for Surveillance of COVID-19

mSystems Apr 2021, 6 (2)

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