Doctors concerned as ‘unhealthy’ air quality expected to last through weekend

Utah Air Quality

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – An inescapable blanket of smoke covering Utah is causing major air quality concerns.

The Utah Division of Air Quality is calling conditions a ‘red day,’ meaning the air quality is so bad it can be harmful for anyone, not just those in sensitive groups.

The poor air quality is expected to last through the weekend, which is why health experts are asking Utahns to act.

“Definitely over the next couple of days it is not looking great,” Dr. Denitza Blagev, Intermountain Healthcare Pulmonary Physician said.

Health experts are sounding the alarm as out of state wildfire smoke consumes Utah. The difference between what we are seeing now versus in the winter is it is more out of our individual control.

“When we’re having the inversions, things build up more slowly and we have more of a warning. We actually contribute more to the pollution in the winter because our vehicles and industrial sources are producing the chemicals that turn into the particulate pollution,” Dr. Robert Paine, Chief of the Division of Pulmonary at the University of Utah said.  

On top of the high ozone levels Utah has in the summer, the influx of smoke is bringing elevated particulate matter into the state.

“Those are the ones that are small enough when you breathe it in, not only does it affect your lungs, but it gets into your blood stream,” Dr. Denitza Blagev said.

“You also have lots of chemicals in the wildfire smoke that can be dangerous for your health,” Dr. Robert Paine said.

Health experts are asking Utahns to reassess their plans this weekend and consider staying indoors, especially if you have underlying health conditions.

“We know that if you take someone who has asthma and you walk them around for two hours in air, that’s actually better than what we have at the moment, you’ll see their lung function deteriorate almost immediately,” Dr. Robert Paine said.

Experts warn that even if you’re not in a sensitive group, you can still be affected by the poor air quality.

“Even people who have no lung disease or heart disease, who are not older or young children, even people like that should not be exercising outdoors and should really be taking steps to limit their exposure to air pollution,” Dr. Denitza Blagev said.

Another reason to take this high air pollution seriously is the increased risk of viral infections, including COVID-19.

Experts said another surge in patients will strain Utah’s already overwhelmed hospital system.

“If somebody has a heart attack or stroke because of the increased air pollution, then with the decreased hospital capacity, that’s an additional strain on the system,” Dr. Denitza Blagev said.

Experts said the best way to protect your lungs while these conditions last is to stay indoors. There are several things you can do to keep your air clean inside, including keeping your windows and doors closed, limiting the use of a swamp cooler, and holding off on vacuuming.

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