It’s that time of year when a great deal of public and private conversation is centered on Utah’s winter air inversions. Let’s separate the fact from fiction for a few of Utah’s most common air quality myths.
Myth 1: Lighting a fire in the fireplace now and then really isn’t a big deal when it comes to air pollution.
Fact: Health alert! Wood burning creates microscopic pieces of pollution that can enter your bloodstream and can cause health effects like coughing, headache, eye and throat irritation, asthma attacks, heart problems and more. Whenever possible, skip the wood flames in favor of a gas fireplace.
Myth 2: Wearing a surgical mask will help reduce our intake of pollution.
Fact: Air pollution is measured in tiny dust and soot particles that are about 1/20th the size of a human hair. These microscopic particles come from car fuel exhaust, power plants, wood burning and industrial processes. Surgical masks would offer about the same protection as your winter scarf — and the scarf will also give you a nice warm buffer between your lungs and the cold air!
Myth 3: Everyone can see when the air quality is at its worst. The smog is murkier and darker.
Fact: You can’t tell just by looking. Often the haze looks worse because of the way light is reflecting on particles hanging in the air, including water vapor, not because there is more pollution that day. Scientists at the Division of Air Quality measure pollutants caught in filters by size, weight and type in order to provide you the most accurate reading—often measuring concentrations not discernable to the naked eye. To check current air quality conditions in your area, go to air.utah.gov.
Myth 4: When air quality is poor outdoors, it is also bad inside.
Fact: Indoor air is, on average, dramatically better, even on the worst air quality days. That’s why the Utah Department of Health developed an indoor school recess guide to aid administrators in determining which days might be best for inside play. The guide takes into account students with respiratory symptoms who may be more sensitive to poor air quality than their peers.
Myth 5: Utah’s air quality problems are not getting better.
Fact: While there is still much we all can do, there have been dramatic improvements over the last several decades. This yearly average chart spanning 35 years shows an air quality index clearly on a downward trend. Yet with vehicle emissions making up roughly half of all air pollution, it becomes very important for each resident to make daily decisions that will help us continue to improve, especially as our population grows.
Myth 6: There’s not much any one person can do about air quality – it’s just the nature of living in a bowl-like valley.
Fact: It’s true that our unique topography and weather play a big role in our pollution problems along the Wasatch Front. Yet there are many things you and your family can do to make a difference when it comes to the air we breathe. Here are just a few:
- Tune and drive your newest car. Newer, well-tuned cars reduce air pollution dramatically.
- Plan to use a no-emission snow shovel instead of a snow blower this winter.
- Lower your thermostat just two degrees.
- Run errands in a trip chain, reducing the number of cold starts your car makes.
Let’s separate fact from fiction and work together to do what we can to improve the air that we breathe. To find out more, visit UCAIR.org.