For people with underlying health conditions like asthma, lung disease, heart disease, and stroke, the bad 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.
What makes wildfire smoke especially harmful is that it has a lot of fine particles known as PM 2.5 which can get trapped in the lungs and cause problems. One of those issues includes inflammation in the body which exacerbates health problems. It can also be bad for those who don’t have other ailments or lung issues, said Dr. Denitza Blagev, MD, pulmonologist at Intermountain Healthcare.
Blagev said that when the lungs are dealing with inflammation, they become stressed and can be more susceptible to infections like COVID and the flu. When PM 2.5 is elevated across the valley people are encouraged to spend less time outdoors and avoid strenuous activity. This is a good time to take workouts inside if you can while still maintaining social distancing.
Air pollution can also 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.
Even outside of fire season Utah deals with poor air quality and inversions throughout the year. 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.
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 the number will be closer to 3.2 million.
“People want to help clean up our air, but they don’t always know how,” said Dr. Blagev with Intermountain Healthcare. “This project showed that when we give people the tools and knowledge, they’ll take steps to do the right thing.”
Along with driving less, clean air advocates say there are several steps people can take to prevent bad air.
Here are tips from the experts at Intermountain Healthcare:
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.
Combine Trips: Try to combine errands and do them on the same trip. This will save time and decrease the amount of pollution you put into the air.
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.
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.
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.
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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