OGDEN -- Although many Utahns associate bad air quality with inversion and winter, summer can be just as problematic.
Sunlight and heat mixing with certain pollutants create ground ozone, which can have serious impacts, especially on the young, old and those with respiratory problems, said Janelle Gardiner, president of the Utah Society for Respiratory Care and an assistant professor at Weber State University.
While some exposure to the ground ozone is not a problem for healthy people, Gardiner said prolonged exposure can create problems even for those without previous respiratory issues.
"The rule of thumb is if it's really hot and we don't have any wind, it's going to be really smoggy out because you get all of the exhaust from cars and other things going into the atmosphere without anything to break it up. You don't want to be outside. That's the time to take it easy and stay indoors," said Donna Spangler, Utah Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman.
The pollution damages cilia, small hairlike projections which help keep lungs clean. If the cilia are damaged, lungs don't function as well, Gardiner said.
Even if the pollution isn't as visible as it is during the winter, Gardiner said people with respiratory problems should avoid being outside on bad air days, and healthy people should avoid exercising outside.
During winter, the bad air culprit is PM 2.5, while summer's problem is ground ozone, but both are reduced the same way, Spangler said. Keep track of the air quality warning levels -- green, yellow and red -- and plan driving accordingly.
"What people can do to make sure we don't go into the red is, if we do reach a yellow, try and limit your driving. Consolidate trips, carpool, ride your bike. And help prevent yellow by doing that all the time," she said.
While there haven't been any really bad days yet, Spangler said July and August are the worst time. She recommends people use common sense, check air quality levels and go inside if they are having breathing problems.
Coughing, general irritation, burning or pain when breathing can all be indications of a problem. If exposure continues long term, people can develop asthma or other chronic lung problems, Gardiner said.
She said 2010 has been declared the year of the lung by international health organizations to bring awareness to lung problems, which are often preventable or manageable if people take care of themselves.
For information on local air quality levels, visit airquality.utah.gov or airnow.gov. For e-mail alerts about air quality, go to enviroflash.info.