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Ed Yeates and Jed Boal ReportingA red alert on air quality continues along the Wasatch Front. In fact, Monday was the eighth consecutive day for the high warning.
We're advised to reduce driving and stay indoors as much as possible.
Bad air! At a time when most of us would like to be outdoors, we shouldn't be! It's sort of like being zipped up inside a sleeping bag, fighting to find a small pocket of good air.
We've been in a continuous red alert category now since July 2. Extreme heat and vehicle emissions are keeping the ozone level high. And combustion from all the fires is pumping PM2 or smaller particles into the air, the same thing we experience in winter inversions.
Even mercury, coming from the combustion of wood, is in the mix.
Rick Sprott, executive director of the Department of Environmental Quality, explains, "We have a double whammy going on." Sprott calls it unusual.
"We have all this high pressure keeping all the particulate in the valleys like it does in the winter. Instead of just automobiles pumping it in, it's all these forest fires."
He's surprised the ozone isn't worse, with such high temperatures. The peaks and valleys on an ozone graph parallel the heating and cooling of the day. But the pollution from the fires?
"Hour by hour it's increasing," Sprott said. "That reflects the smoke to the south, the smoke to the north, and it's collecting in the valleys."
Pat Ninomiya has asthma, so she's high risk. But even indoors at work, taking elevators and walking minimally, she still feels the effects.
Ninomiya said, "Well, I walked from my office down the hall, caught the elevator and came up to the third floor. It was minimal walking. But minimal walking, I can tell it's putting pressure on my lungs."
"I haven't felt this for a long, long time," she said. "It's the trip home, and then just into the house. Not much outside. I pretty much stay indoors."
Dennis Stansfield feels it, too, and he has no respiratory complications.
Stansfield was out running about 11:30 this morning, mainly because it's his lunch break, and the heat actually helps his joints perform better. But the air?
"This is a little heavier. You can feel it as you breathe. It can really slow you down," he said.
The air is a pathetic sight, something we might expect in January during one of our winter inversions, but never in the middle of summer. Atop LDS Hospital the visibility is only two to three miles. You can't even see beyond 2100 South.
Dr. Loren Greenway, the administrative director for LDS Hospital Pulmonary Medicine, said, "This is the worst air pollution that I've seen at this time of year in the last 25 years I've been in Utah."
Dr. Greenway says whether you're high risk or not, for now it's probably not a good idea to do heavy physical exercise outdoors.
"The pollution in the air and ozone causes the airways to react, hyper-react," he explained. "I was out of the state until two days ago. Came back to the state, and my nose and throat are raw."
Research now shows air pollution also compromises the blood supply to the heart, which might trigger a heart attack in a person already at risk for cardiovascular disease.