Air Quality Colors
Here in Utah our days are labeled with colors and we hear air quality and inversion thrown around A LOT. So… what’s that all about?
The Air Quality Index (AQI) is that fun indicator that tells us if we are having a green,yellow,orange or red air day. The AQI uses numbers to represent the combo of air pollution and weather conditions. Air quality can fluctuate through the day as wind and temperatures change. The main pollutant levels tracked are PM 2.5 (fine particulate matter) and OZONE. Ground level OZONE is formed through chemical reactions to VOC (volatile organic compounds) and other emissions in the presence of sunlight and heat. PM 2.5 refers to tiny particles in the air that are 2 1/2 microns or less in width (over 30x smaller than human hair!)
3 categories make up Utah’s air contaminants- point, area and mobile sources. (You can find charts and reports through the Division of Air Quality on DEQ.Utah.gov.) POINT sources are large industrial/commercial facilities such as power plants and manufacturing facilities. AREA sources are much smaller stationary sources like home heating, agricultural burning/harvesting, construction, residential/commercial energy generation, wildfires, and biogenics (emissions from vegetation). MOBILE sources consist of emissions from non-stationary sources: planes, trains and automobiles.
How does inversion play a role; aren’t inversions natural? Yes, but because we sit in a beautiful bowl surrounded by mountains, an inversion will act like a hat trapping and condensing pollution, making things much worse some days. Generally air is warm in lower elevations and cools as it moves up. A surface temperature inversion is when the system flips; warm air is on top, cold air hovers down low. This happens in the winter when the Sun is not as hot, nights are longer and we have little wind. This combination cools the air closest to the ground and the absent wind holds those surface temps, keeping higher elevations warmer (and the hat on our pollution). What can clear an inversion? Storms with wind.
So… whats the big deal? Well, its those icky days. The sky is stagnant and muggy. Your hair feels dirty. A cough develops. Can’t catch your breath. Well, THAT’S part of poor air quality. Children, elderly, pregnant women and asthma sufferers are NOT the only residents at risk. Sure, we can push through the heavy breathing, runny nose, itchy eyes and headaches. But no one is immune to the bigger health issues that accompany ground ozone and PM 2.5. Our bodies struggle to filter particles of this size, so they travel dangerously deep into our respiratory systems which can disrupt cardiovascular functions . (That’s your lungs and heart, people!) Some problems that can arise are heart attacks, heart disease, aggravated emphysema and chronic bronchitis (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD), acute lower respiratory infections and adverse birth outcomes. In addition to human risk, our federal government has directly linked poor air quality to rising temperatures which has and will continue to impact local vegetation and ecosystems.
Well, what gets rid of pollution? Good news- We do!!
Absolutely. Sure, agriculture and industry make up their large part of the pie. But for average citizens like you and me, we can focus on energy conservation and transportation, transportation, transportation. (Driving is a biggie, guys) Simple action means big improvement. Every effort to cut air pollution DOES make a difference.
Here are some ways. We’ve got this!:
1. Turn your home thermostat down 2 degrees.
2. Turn your car off. Seriously. Just turn it off. If you are idling longer than 3 minutes (think longer than a stoplight ), you should turn the key. At the school pick-up, at the bank, food or pharmacy drive-thru, wherever you wait and are inclined to put your car in Park- just turn it off. WAITING = CAR OFF
4. Use the broom over leaf blower
5. maintain your car, keep tires properly inflated
6. Consolidate shopping trips, pick specific days to shop
7. Compost, prevent food waste
8. Hang dry clothes – keeps your clothes longer and adds humidity to your home
9. walk to church- encourage your household to walk/bike to destinations within 5 blocks ( friend’s home, school, churches, stores)
10.Bundle up – season appropriate dress and blankets can help conserve energy at home and in the car. You are also more inclined to walk places
11. Use cold water on laundry
12. Time your showers, turn your shower head down or shower every other day
13. Get an Energy Audit done on your home, properly winterize!
14. Buy an electric car
15. Quit smoking
16. If you use a wood burning stove, make sure it is EPA certified and burn wood not treated with chemicals
17. Turn your water heater down when not using or off when gone
18. TURN LIGHTS OFF, use motion sensor lighting
19. Educate those around you about air quality
20. Ask your employer about a work-from-home option
21. Only run dishwashers, washing machines and dryers when completely full
22. Use non-toxic household cleaners
23. Use paints with low VOC
24. Avoid large dirt patches in your yard
25.Opt out of junk mail, use paperless billing
26. Hang up and re-use towels
27. USE MASS TRANSIT
28. Have houseplants, grow a winter garden
29. Switch to re-usable items
30. Have your kids take the school bus
31. Join the CLEAR THE AIR CHALLENGE at
32. Check out the many organizations in Utah that track Air Quality and advocate cleaner living.