Utah air quality officials urge those with sensitivities to stay indoors

Dec 17 2013 - 7:05am

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Cars drive down North Harrison Boulevard Monday, Dec. 16, 2013 in Ogden. (DYLAN BROWN/Standard-Examiner)
Cars drive down North Harrison Boulevard Monday, Dec. 16, 2013 in Ogden. (DYLAN BROWN/Standard-Examiner)

OGDEN -- The soot-colored fog blanketing much of the Top of Utah is more than just haze -- the cold and stagnant air has created a health hazard across the region and forecasts don't show things changing any time soon.

On Monday, the Utah Division of Air Quality listed Weber and Davis counties as having air pollution bad enough that those with sensitivities -- infants, the elderly and those with an existing heart or lung condition -- are urged to stay inside.

Tuesday, Dec. 17, and Wednesday, Dec. 18, are supposed to be even worse, with air during those two days predicted to be unhealthy for the entire population, not just those particularly sensitive to bad air.

Federal guidelines suggest that even healthy citizens should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion on "red-alert" air quality days.

During the bad air days, solid fuel burning devices are illegal and open burning, including in fire pits, fire rings and campfires, is prohibited.

The smog is expected to remain throughout the week, with the first possible break on Thursday, when there is a chance of snow.

During Utah's winter inversion season, which typically lasts well into January, the DAQ suggests that citizens limit vehicle use by carpooling, using mass transit, walking, riding a bike or telecommuting.

"While we can't control the weather, with a little help from everyone, we can reduce how much pollution we're breathing during an inversion," said Bryce Bird, director of the DAQ.

The American Lung Association currently ranks the Salt Lake City/Ogden region as the sixth-worst area in the United States for short-term particle pollution.

Matt Pacenza, policy director of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah said his group has urged the Utah DAQ to consider a more robust plan for limiting air pollution.

Pacenza said that even as Utah is struggling to meet Clean Air Act limits on fine particle pollution, it's allowing emissions from industry to increase more than 12 percent between 2010 and 2019.

"Every sector needs do its part to ensure that Northern Utah's communities, families and economy thrive," says Pacenza. "While we've worked so hard to clean up our cars, homes and small businesses, regulators are letting big industry make the air even dirtier."

Four bald eagles have died from similar symptoms in Northern Utah in the past two weeks, raising alarms among state wildlife officials who are working to determine what happened.

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources WildLife Disease Coordinator Leslie McFarlane said initial investigation on the birds, which were found in Weber, Box Elder, Tooele and Utah counties, show no signs of air-related illness.

"At this point, I seriously doubt it has anything to do with the poor air quality," McFarlane said. "If that were the case, we would expect to see respiratory symptoms, and we haven't seen those."

Contact reporter Mitch Shaw at 801-625-4233 or mishaw@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23.

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