Fireworks, ozone lead to worsening summer air problem in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY -- Up and down the Wasatch Front, air monitoring machines noted the same thing at the same time: a spike in particulate pollution between 10 p.m. and Midnight on July 4.

It's not hard to understand why, especially if you live in an area where neighbors on all sides set off fireworks that night.

"We're seeing higher and higher levels of particulate pollution across the valley, especially surrounding the 4th of July," said Ashley Soltysiak, Policy Director for the environmental advocacy group HEAL Utah.

The levels ranged from orange, meaning unhealthy for sensitive groups, to dark red, meaning hazardous to anyone who has lungs that still take in air.

Particulate pollution surrounding Independence Day and Pioneer Day is just one of two major summer air problems in Utah.

The other is ozone.

Soltysiak describes ozone as "...an invisible gas that is essentially formed when we have oxide compounds mixed with sunlight."

Utah's excess sunlight combines with the fumes from cars, home appliances, and industrial emitters to create ozone, which presents dangers to our lungs similar to those caused by particulates.

"In short-term bursts it can exacerbate asthma," Soltysiak said. "It can cause coughing, throat irritation, and in the long-term it can decrease lung function. There are a slough of bad side effects that come with ozone so it's really troubling."

And increasing ozone levels from hot summers are becoming as much of a health threat as the soup of particulates trapped in Utah's winter inversion.

"We're seeing them sooner, and we're seeing them more in the fall now, so this problem is becoming a chronic problem throughout the year for us," Soltysiak said.