Utah: Greatest Snow, Worst Air

It’s getting harder to breathe out there.

In fact, for the past week, if you have athsma or any other respiratory or related heath issues, you might have wanted to forget about going outside altogether. Especially now that Utah has been given the uninspiring title to the worst air quality in the U.S. In fact, the EPA has been squawking about Utah’s air violating federal standards since April, and perhaps even before that.

An inversion, a meteorological phenomenon we’re all too familiar with in Northern Utah, is caused by a high pressure system that sits over the region and allows the air to stagnate. In other words, the air isn’t moving. It’s staying right where it’s left. The exhaust out of your car, the smoke from that cigarette–it hangs in the air as soon as it leaves the orifice from whence it came. This isn’t helped by our low valleys- the bad air is trapped inside on the valley floors, and cannot move until it is pushed out by a storm or cleaned out by the rain. Thankfully, we’re supposed to get some relief soon, but that doesn’t mean inversions won’t happen again before the winter’s over. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed that they will.

The news has been proclaiming it to be a “red burn day” for Utah County for at least a week– Salt Lake, Davis, Weber and Cache Counties have been at yellow, or moderate. This means that in Utah County, you should not burn anything until it’s over, don’t drive, if at all possible. No burning wood in the fireplace, and that former work uniform you’ve been dying to set aflame will just have to wait in the laundry room.

The color- coded system starts at green, and upgrades to yellow, orange, or red, as the air quality worsens. Obviously red is the worst and green is the best. If you’re under a yellow alert, you’re on a voluntary no- burn, and under orange, you’re strongly discouraged from burning.

What can we as Utahns who like to breathe do? Well, we can get smaller cars or hybrids rather than huge trucks and SUVs, which burn more fuel. We can follow the Utah Department of Environmental Qualitys tips for driving smart. Better yet, we can take advantage of the UTA busses and Trax- FREE for UVU students! We can invest in sweaters and coats and warm hats and shoes. We can huddle. We can get together and brainstorm more ways of saving energy.

What’s at stake? Well, your lungs, of course. And the poor white swans at the pond near my house are turning brown. Every living thing in this state stands to inherit a shorter life span if we don’t do something about the carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, lead, and VOC’s (volitile organic compounds) in the air we breathe. So please, do your best not to burn when you could just put a hat on, or let your giant gas- hogging truck idle for a half hour. All of our lungs- and some really filthy swans- are counting on you.

Sources: Utah Department of Air Quality (deq.utah.gov), KSL news, U.S. Air Quality, “The Smog Blog: (alg.umbc.edu/usaq/)

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