Utah County air quality causes breathing problems at UVU

Reading Time: 3 minutes Construction, fires and pollution contribute to hazardous air around Utah Valley University.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Lacing up her favorite red running shoes, UVU junior Aura Kenny headed out for a run. Her first time running here instead of Draper, Kenny can feel the difference in her lungs as her feet beat the pavement and she gets into the rhythm of her workout song, singing along, “My body tells me no! But I won’t quit, ‘cause I want more!”

Normally, Kenny’s asthma doesn’t prove to be too much of a problem while running, but at UVU, things are different. She has had to walk up hills and stop to catch her breath. The air in her lungs felt heavier, dirtier and harder to breathe. One look into the distance and the problem was clear. The air was so thick with a brown layer of smoke and dirt that the outline of the mountains was faint.

“You can even see the layers of gunk in the atmosphere,” Kenny said. “You can see the clouds and how they’re caked in all these weird odors and vapors from [pollution] and the construction all over the county, and of course the fires. There’s tons of smog and gross stuff in the air.”

This summer, Kenny admits to staying inside more than she’s used to because of the poor air quality.

“Usually, I like spending time outside. I would say that [the air quality] has an effect on me. When there’s really bad air, my lung swell up, and I already have asthma, but it’s ten times worse. I literally have days when I can’t breathe and I’m hyperventilating.”

Kenny isn’t the only one who has noticed. Complaints about dust getting in eyes and difficulties with breathing have been heard throughout the county.

The Department of Environmental Quality lists air quality in Utah among the worst in the nation. Utah Valley seems especially bad because the surrounding mountains don’t allow wind to sweep away the pollution.

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality and AIRNow.com, a national archive of air quality records, recorded hazardous air conditions for August 8 and 9 this year. On days like these, elementary schools keep their children indoors during recess, and red-flag warnings are posted on signs over freeways. The majority of the days in August were recorded as moderate to unhealthy, but there were several “very unhealthy” days for Provo and Tooele, reaching particle matter measurements between 151 and 200, a number considered unsafe for the entire population.

This summer, there were fires across the country, and several blazed in Utah county, pumping smoke and ash into the air. Even those who weren’t terrified by the fire tearing paths along the mountains feared the damage they saw looking up, watching the sky darken with soot.

Though the fires never reached Orem, something else has people coughing and wheezing. Large posters tacked on campus proclaiming “Pardon our dust!” add a comical side to the grudge students hold against the construction, but there are those who blame the construction for a further dip in air quality.

The weekend before school started, rain came as a relief. Though not enough to quench the drought, the precipitation cleared the air significantly, washing away much of the smog hanging over the valley. Aura Kenny showed her excitement by going out for a run, describing the air as much better.

“The rain definitely helps clear the air, helps me breathe better and helps cleanse the earth,” Kenny said. “I’ve noticed that I’ve been able to breathe. My lungs have been clear, and it just smells more fresh outside. You’re not smelling smoke or that gray, over-haze grossness.”