When it comes to air quality on the Wasatch Front this weekend, you can either blame or thank the wind.
Wind patterns blew wildfire smoke into Weber County on Friday morning, spiking levels of particulate pollution. Afternoon breezes blew out the smoke, but stagnant weather caused levels of ozone pollution to build in the summer heat. No matter the source, high levels of pollution take a toll on public health.
“Even today, I have had at least two patients comment on the air quality and how it has made their allergies worse or their asthma worse,” said Dr. Archana Parmenter, a physician at the Herefordshire Clinic in Roy.
Tiny particles in smoke can enter the lungs and irritate the lining, Parmenter said. That’s bad for people with existing respiratory problems. Over time, exposure to pollution can cause damage to healthy lungs, too.
Ozone is a different type of pollution because it’s a colorless gas, but it still can damage healthy and sensitive lungs alike. Hot summer weather gives rise to both types of pollution, as wildfires become more common and ozone pollution worsens under the heat.
“If you can smell it or it’s bugging you, you should get out of it,” said Bo Call, air monitoring manager with the Utah Division of Air Quality. “Go inside, move to a different location.”
The near surface smoke map shows how the plume shifted from moving out toward Colorado and is now accumulating along the Wasatch Front. The trend charts shows the increase in PM2.5 along the Wasatch Front. pic.twitter.com/7kEyK8dJP4— Utah DEQ (@UtahDEQ) July 6, 2018
Ozone pollution is easier to predict — it forms during hot summer days when tailpipe emissions and other pollutants mix with sunlight. Levels typically peak at the hottest part of the day.
“Your best defense is to stay out of it as much as you can, to limit exposure outside with exercise and playing,” said Michela Gladwell, director of environmental health for the Weber-Morgan Health Department. “Unfortunately, really, our best bet is to stay indoors.”
Parmenter also advises her own patients to limit outdoor exposure and physical exertion during bouts of bad air. All Wasatch Front residents have a role to play, however, in creating more breathable summer air.
She points to Utah Department of Environmental Quality and UCAIR recommendations to limit local contributions to pollution problems — namely driving less, using electric lawn equipment and cutting back on wood burning.
“Just playing our part in minimizing or not contributing to the air quality (problems) can be beneficial,” Parmenter said.