SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (News4Utah) – Wildfires in Utah and throughout the West are causing serious air quality problems along the Wasatch Front. Experts worry that if things continue to stay dry in the future then air pollution could be worse than inversions in the winter.
Daniel Mendoza is a researcher and assistant professor at the University of Utah. He’s been studying the impacts of particle pollution and ozone on people’s health. He worries drier conditions could create more dust storms and worsening fire conditions. Thereby increasing particle pollution in the summer.
“Not only the ozone which is what we’ve been used to during the summer, but also now particulate matter,” said Mendoza. “Which only used to be a winter time problem and it’s now rearing its head in the summer.”
Mendoza is an asthma sufferer himself and knows first hand what it can be like.
“I will definitely feel just a tightness in my chest,” said Mendoza.
His symptoms are triggered by ozone, and he often has to do any exercise before 9 a.m. when before ozone levels start to rise.
Mendoza points out that children and the elderly are often at the highest risk. For the elderly, bad air can trigger other health issues and has been linked to higher rates of death.
Children tend to play outside more in the summer and are more active than adults. In their research, they’ve found kids breath deeper and faster while playing. Their bodies have a greater saturation of pollutants than adults. It can cause issues later in life.
“Any kind of scarring or lung damage that you develop as a child will grow and become a larger part of your life,” said Mendoza.
The hot dry conditions which have become a normal occurrence in the summer is making things worse. Not just for wildfire conditions, but dust storms can kick up from the winds at places like the Great Salt Lake.
David Peters is a fire mitigation specialist for the Bureau of Land Management. He notes fires in areas like California have been getting worse.
“California is basically year-round fire season,” said Peters.
The BLM is currently conducting mitigation which includes clearing brush and doing prescribed burns on more than a million acres of land. The tactic is showing success when met by wildfire.
“When those wildfires come into those treated areas we’re seeing way less intense fires,” said Peters. “Fires that the firefighters can fight better.”
Peters said smoke from the fires could last until more rain comes. That could also be later in the season for some areas of the country.