Residents asked to do their part to improve air quality
Particulates from air pollution can lodge inside the lungs and cause lung damage. (Utah Health Department)
Winters in Salt Lake County not only means cold and snow. It also means inversion and poor air quality. While it may seem like an overwhelming task, there are things residents can do to help alleviate the bad air and make the winter a little bit more breathable.
Donna Spangler, communications director at the Division of Air Quality (DAQ) at the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, explained the inversion is caused by cold air being trapped next to the valley floor by a layer of warmer air above. In that cold air is particulate matter that is the main source of the inversion.
The DAQ has air monitors all around the state next to schools that measure the particulate matter.
“Typically, we have the air monitors near schools because we want to know what the particulates say next to our most vulnerable population, which is our children because they tend to breath in more air,” Spangler said. “What the air monitors show us during the winter time and during an inversion, much of the pollution, and we’ve done inventories to show where that pollution is coming from, 48 percent comes from automobiles.”
According to Spangler, other sources include industries such as power plants and what are called area sources. These are sources where there is no specific kind or particular industry or business that is emitting the form of particulates that cause inversion. This includes cooking happening in restaurants, heating homes and various small businesses.
“The reason that’s important is because when the Utah Department of Environmental Quality Division of Air Quality looks at trying to come up with regulations to limit these kinds of pollution that form this kind of particulates, it’s really difficult because you can’t regulate one specific sector,” Spangler said. “It’s a bunch of little things. That’s why it’s important for people to understand that every action that we take, everything we do does add to the pollution.”
According to Spangler, breathing in particulate matter during an inversion is harmful because the particulates get trapped in the lungs. Persistent and prolonged exposure could lead to lung damage.
“As far as the health issue, it depends on how healthy you are. People react differently depending on what pollution they breathe,” Spangler said. “We call our most sensitive population children because they breathe in more, the elderly because they have compromised respiratory systems, people with asthma are obviously impacted more than those who are normally healthy.”
Since cars are the primary source of particulate pollution, Spangler said consolidating trips and using public transportation is the best way to help improve the air quality. Choosing not to leave the car idling also helps improve the air quality.
Through grants, the DAQ and the Utah Clean Air partnership work together to get businesses to install pollution control equipment to improve the air quality.
“We offer people to convert their wood-burning stoves into gas-heating systems. If a person uses wood burning as their sole source of heat, they are exempt from our rules that say you can’t burn,” Spangler said. “But we go in and we offer them a replacement. So we actually pay to have them convert to a cleaner source of heat.”
Air quality is sure to be a topic discussed at the legislative session. Spangler said the main need right now is funding to replace old monitoring equipment.
“A lot of the research that is needed is in collaboration with universities, with our federal partners to actually get a better understanding of what is causing the air pollution so that we can have better regulatory controls that are more targeted to reducing pollution and making our air quality better,” Spangler said.
For more information about air quality, visit deq.utah.gov.