SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – If you are wearing a mask for reasons other than COVID-19 you are not alone. Monday morning, Salt Lake City was ranked the worst in the United States for bad air quality.

According to IQAir, a Swiss air quality technology company which specializes in protection against airborne pollutants and developing air quality monitoring, Salt Lake City was also ranked Monday morning among the top five cities in the world for bad air quality, behind Shangai, China, Lahore, Pakistan, Hangzhou, China, and Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Dr. Brian Moench, Board President and Co-founder of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment says the wildfire air pollution we all see, smell, and breathe, is directly related to the climate crisis and the record-breaking heat and drought that has plagued the western United States for most of this summer.  

“Unfortunately, summer wildfires are becoming increasingly the norm, and summer air quality may become even worse than our notorious winter inversions,” said Dr. Moench. “Pollution from wildfires may look and feel much like our winter inversion pollution, and the health effects are certainly similar.”

Dr. Moench says, however, the pollution from the wildfires may be even worse.

“Because there is a higher concentration of damaging chemicals in wood smoke, and many of the particles are smaller, allowing them to be more easily inhaled, picked up by the bloodstream, and delivered throughout the body, causing biologic stress wherever they end up,” said Dr. Moench. “And that can be in the heart, brain, kidneys, and even the placenta of a pregnant mother.” 

ABC4’s very own weekday Meteorologist Erika Martin said Utah is suffering from exceptionally dry conditions, as well as extreme drought.

High-pressure systems over the desert Southwest have dominated the overall summer weather pattern. This setup has allowed Utah to be recipients of near-surface smoke from the wildfires burning in Northern California, on top of our own state’s wildfires.

However, Martin says as we see a push of stronger winds from the north/northwest coming in overnight Monday, the air quality concerns we have right now will improve dramatically by Tuesday.

Dr. Moench says in the era of a pandemic, we have even more reason to be concerned.  

“Several studies have shown that air pollution significantly increases the risk of a poor or fatal outcome from the coronavirus,” said Dr. Moench.  

Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment advise that people take as many precautions as possible to protect themselves from this wildfire pollution:  

  • Stay indoors and use air purifiers to improve indoor air quality.  
  • Don’t barbecue. Not only does barbecuing increase the pollution you inhale, it significantly increases toxic chemicals that you absorb through your skin and clothes.  
  • Don’t exercise in pollution levels this high.  
  • If possible, don’t add to the pollution by driving your car.  Eat healthy, with plenty of anti-oxidant rich foods.
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