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Here’s how to prevent impacts of bad air days

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How we can all do our part in helping to clear Utah's air

MURRAY, Utah (Intermountain Healthcare) — For people with underlying health conditions like asthma, COPD, heart disease, and stroke, the poor air quality in Utah can worsen these health issues. Even those who don’t suffer from these conditions should limit their exposure when air quality is poor. 

Air pollution can actually cause childhood asthma, and in combination with common viral infections may lead to hospitalizations in children. Pregnant moms should take caution as well, as exposure to air pollution has been associated with preterm deliveries. 

In anticipation for Utah’s winter inversion season, Intermountain Healthcare is focusing on what people can do to combat the impacts of bad air days while also taking steps to prevent them from happening. Intermountain is taking a number of initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint, including its use of electric vehicles and adding electric charging stations to hospital campuses, said Liz Joy, MD, senior medical director of wellness and nutrition for Intermountain Healthcare. 

Intermountain says air pollution trapped along the Wasatch Front by winter inversions sends more than 200 people to the emergency room with pneumonia each year.

Dr. Joy, ‘people typically think of the association between air pollution and lung disease such as asthma and COPD. But other systems are affected as well from bad air like your heart. People with underlying heart disease like a heart attack or congestive heart failure are affected. If they’re exposed to air pollution they may have another heart attack.’

Vehicle exhaust is the biggest contributor to poor air quality, reducing driving has the biggest impact. In 2019 Intermountain launched an initiative aimed at reducing the number of miles driven by employees by promoting the use of public transit, teleworking, and active transportation (biking and walking to work). The original goal was to reduce miles driven by 3 million, but projections show by the end of this year the number will be closer to 3.2 million. 

Along with driving less, clean air advocates say there are several steps people can do to prevent bad air, including: 

1. Be Idle Free: Whether waiting to pick up kids from school or in the drive-through people should turn off their engine. According to the EPA, if a car is running for more than 10 seconds it saves more fuel to turn it off and back on again. 

2. Combine Trips: Try to combine errands and do them in the same trip. This will save time and decrease the amount of pollution and exhaustion that goes into the air.  

3. Avoid Short Trips: Studies have shown the worst of car pollution happens within the first few minutes of a vehicle starting up and moving. That’s why short car trips are bad for air quality. Experts suggest walking or biking when possible to avoid unnecessary emissions. 

4. Don’t Warm Up a Vehicle: Modern vehicles don’t have to “warm-up” to work properly so idling in the driveway only adds to bad air. The EPA notes that a car’s heater warms up faster by driving then by idling.

5. Telework: If your job allows try to work from home to avoid driving all together, especially on days when the AQI is in the orange zone of higher. Download the EPA’s airnow.gov app to your smartphone so you can check on the AQI daily. 

6. Use Public Transit: Try to use UTA to get to where you’re going. See if your employer offers discounted passes.

Bad air during the Wasatch Front’s typical winter inversion is a compounding issue, meaning that air pollution builds up over time. Taking these steps before the air quality deteriorates to dangerous levels can help prevent it from getting there in the first place. That’s why clean air advocates urge people to adopt better habits throughout the year.

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