A doctor explains the effects of Utah’s bad air quality

Dr. Liz Joy, Medical Director for Community Health at Intermountain Healthcare and UCAIR Board Member explained the health impacts of poor air quality in Utah.

• Poor air quality is unhealthy for everyone. We know that there is a relationship between air quality and asthma, heart disease and stroke. Air pollution has also been linked to adverse pregnancy outcomes including lower birth weight babies.

• Children are also at greater risk of adverse health consequences from air pollution as they breathe faster than adults, and tend to spend more time outdoors than adults, so have greater exposure.

• Air pollution has acute (or right now) effects on health, as well as chronic, or longer-term impacts. We know more about the former than the later. For example, what is the impact of air pollution on the heart and lungs of someone 'healthy' who has been running outside during inversions for 20 years? Or someone who is a bicycle commuter to work all year round? These are some unanswered questions.

• During inversions, the primary pollutant of concern is PM2.5. These tiny particles can pass through the nose and throat, lodge deeply in the lungs, and pass across the lungs into the vascular system (in the heart and brain).

• These particles are like sandpaper on our airways and blood vessels, causing inflammation and swelling in airways and blood vessels, which in turn have an adverse effect on health.

• People also need to be aware of ozone pollution in the summer months (and we have winter ozone in some parts of northern Utah). Ground level ozone is created through chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the presence of sunlight.

• Ozone pollution, like particulate pollution, is inflammatory and can actually cause airway disease in otherwise healthy people

• There are a number of things people can do to protect their health and the health of their families.
o Be aware of current air quality levels.
o You can check air quality on the EPA`s airnow.gov app or download the free UtahAir app
o Talk to your child`s doctor to determine if your child is sensitive to poor air quality
o Exercise early in the morning when pollution levels are lower or at a higher altitude above the pollution.
o Consider indoor exercise when air quality is poor

• We are making progress toward better air but we all have a responsibility for better air. A responsibility for ourselves and for our loved ones. If we will all make just two or three small changes, we can help improve our air quality.
o Be idle-free, especially at the drive-thru or when picking up kids at school
o Try transit
o TravelWise, by carpooling, trip chaining or teleworking
o Shovel snow instead of using a snow blower
These small changes can have a big impact on our environment, our health and on our loved ones.

Go to www.ucair.org for more.