Wildfires can make difficult for monitors to pinpoint bad air quality

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (News4Utah) – There are seven air monitors in three counties along the Wasatch Front which give readings on air quality. Because they’re spread out, it can be difficult to measure all areas when spot events like wildfires occur.

This means some areas can see smoky skies even though air monitors in those areas show green air quality. Bo Call is the Manager or Air Monitoring at the Division of Air Quality and notes it isn’t easy.

“We have now with these wildfires, and you can have it in one spot and two blocks away not really notice it,” said Call.

The air monitors are very sensitive and measure different kinds of ozone and particulate in the air. There has been talk about putting more monitors throughout the area, but he notes they are also very expensive.

“You can’t have too much information,” said Call, “but that has to be balanced with the amount of resources that we have.”

To try and give a street by street view of air quality groups like Purple Air have been setting up cheaper air monitors around the state. While they cover a larger area, experts note they measure differently and can be inaccurate. Those like Call says they can still serve a good purpose.

“The data isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s not necessarily accurate either,” said Call. “One thing they are generally pretty good for is if you see them going up then the air is probably getting worse.”

He notes those monitors measure by the minute and can be thrown off by sudden influxes in particles. Whereas state-run monitors go off the average seen over an hour.

Air readings are especially important during wildfires because it often increases particulate matter which can hurt those with respiratory issues.

Experts say sometimes the best measurement is knowing how you feel no matter what the monitors are showing.

“If you walk out walk out your front door and you can smell it and you can’t see across the street, and it starts making you cough. Go back inside.”

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