Winter, in almost any other state in the US that means cooler temperatures and maybe even some snow. But in Utah, winter means more pollution and dangerous particulates in the air. The winter inversion is unavoidable, but there are ways to keep safe and maybe even help out.
Why is this happening?
It’s the geography. Most of Utah’s cities lie in valleys surrounded by mountains. In these geographic bowls, natural weather conditions, as well as human activity, create a lid of warm air that traps the cooler air below. Unfortunately, pollution gets stuck as well. Smoke and particulates from cars, power plants, and wood stoves are kept dangerously close to the ground, creating ground-level ozone or smog. Exposure to pollution is hazardous, possibly affecting your health or that of your family. There’s no stopping an inversion. It takes an act of nature to dissipate all that pollution, such as a storm or strong heavy winds. All you can do is keep yourself safe and make sure you aren’t contributing to the problem.
Pollution and particulates in the air can irritate your eyes, nose, and throat. Once you breathe in these particulates, it could lead to coughing, asthma-like symptoms, and increased phlegm. Particulates can even lodge inside your lungs and enter your bloodstream. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), prolonged or chronic exposure to elevated levels of particulates have been shown to bring about chronic bronchitis, aggravated asthma, reduced lung functions, irregular heartbeats, an increase in both non-fatal and fatal heart attacks, and premature death in people with preexisting heart and lung problems. It’s challenging to avoid particulates as they are in the very air you breathe. Specific masks can filter out particulates, but it’s better to stay home if the air quality index shows high levels of particulates.
Alleviating Utah’s particulate problems require long-term solutions. Although close to 50 percent of Utah’s air pollution is produced by vehicles, switching to electric cars won’t make much impact. Almost all of Utah’s energy production involves the use of coal, natural gas, and oil. It’s better to ride public transportation than to switch to an electric car. One green way to help out is by installing solar panels in your home. Using the sun for your home’s energy needs decreases your reliance on electricity that’s powered by a fossil-fuelled energy grid. Even without solar panels, you can reduce your electrical consumption by insulating your house and buying green appliances. These measures can reduce your energy consumption by up to 30 to 50 percent. Stop burning wood and switch to gas. Whether it’s your stove, furnace, fireplace, or outdoor fire pit – if you’re using wood, then you’re sending particulates into the air. Gas stoves and heaters burn clean, producing close to zero pollution and particulates. They’re easier to operate, safer, and require very little preparation or cleaning.
Utah’s inversion problem is a serious matter. However, you can take steps to keep yourself safe from this problem and even be a part of the solution.