Wasatch Front air quality worst in nation

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Many northern Utah counties are under a red air alert beginning Monday and continuing for at least the next two days.

A map from the government website airnow.gov shows the Wasatch Front's air quality index is at "unhealthy" levels.

"In very measurable ways, it affects all of our health, whether we feel it immediately today or not," said Dr. Denitza Blager, a pulmonologist at Intermountain Medical Center.

Blager said the long-term effects of inversion pollution can be very serious.

"Over time, and with population studies, we know that people that live in environments like this, where the air quality is bad, tend to have a higher rate of a variety of diseases including lung cancer and increased risk of death," Blager said.

Box Elder, Salt Lake, Davis, Tooele, and Weber Counties have been labeled with a red air quality status. This means the air is determined to be unhealthy for sensitive groups, including people with lung diseases, such as asthma, children and older adults and people who are active outdoors. These people should reduce prolonged or heavy outdoor exertion.

Utah and Cache Counties are slightly worse. The Utah Department of Environmental Quality suggests that sensitive groups avoid prolonged or heavy outdoor exertion and everyone should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

"Because we breathe differently when we exercise, taking deeper breaths, exercising gets more of the pollution in our lungs," Blager said.

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality also states during a red air quality status there is no burning and people should limit driving by using mass transit or carpooling as possible.

To check current air quality conditions and forecasts, visit http://www.airquality.utah.gov/aqp/slc.html.