Utah’s air quality takes a beating from the summer sun and wildfires

SALT LAKE CITY - The record heat and massive wildfires are having a huge impact on air quality in Utah. High temperatures are being blamed for the highest ozone levels in Salt Lake County in a decade.

“It’s been a very challenging year,” said Donna Spangler, Utah Department of Environmental Quality. “So you have this double effect: you have the high ozone caused by high temperatures and no wind to temper the heat and the particulate pollution that’s caused by the fires.”

Ozone levels are also at the highest levels in nearly a decade in Davis and Weber Counties. Only Utah County has seen a slight drop in ozone this year.

Heat and wildfires cannot always be controlled but the Utah Department of Environmental Quality is taking several steps to do what it can to improve the state’s air, including:

· Encouraging refineries to produce cleaner fuel
· Restricting businesses from using chemicals that cause pollution
· Urging the public to drive less or use public transit

“Drive less or drive smarter,” added Spangler. “Consolidate your errands so you don’t have to drive.”
The University of Utah Hospital is seeing more patients with breathing problems this summer. Doctors say ozone causes irritations for patients with asthma and smoking related lung disease. They say particulate pollution causes problems for the brain and heart and can lead to strokes and heart attacks.

“I have a significant portion of patients who are very sensitive to changes in air quality,” said Dr. Robert Paine, U of U Hospital Pulmonary Division Chief. “They are having more problems when the ozone is high or in the winter when the particulates are high. They are often bothered by wildfires that drive up particulates in the summer.”

Dr. Paine said ozone cannot be seen so visibility may be good but the air quality could be bad. Likewise, he said the air quality may not be so bad during hazy days. He urges everyone to check the quality of the air each day at the Utah Air Monitoring Program found here http://www.airmonitoring.utah.gov/.

He says people can also protect themselves from bad air by exercising at the right time. “I’m a big believer of exercise,” said Dr. Paine. “I don’t want my patients exercising with high levels of ozone so I tell them to exercise and stay inside and take it easy in the afternoon. It’s good advice for most people.”

You can learn more about what you can do to protect your health and improve Utah’s air at the UCAIR or Utah Clean Air website http://www.ucair.org/.