Utah’s Bad Wintertime Air Creates Health Risks

Dec 10, 2018, 7:31 PM | Updated: 9:22 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The bad air is bad for all of us. That’s the message from the Heart and Lung Center at Intermountain Medical Center.

“There is no safe level of air pollution,” said Dr. Denitza Blagev, a pulmonologist at the Murray hospital.

While the very young, elderly and those with chronic health conditions are most at risk, Blagev warns that there can be more widespread health complications due to the pollution plaguing the Salt Lake Valley.

“Whether you have symptoms or not, air pollution is bad for you,” she said.

The wintertime temperature inversion traps vehicle emissions and other types of smog close to the valley floor. Breathing in those particles, Blagev said, can cause a person’s blood pressure to rise.

A bicyclist rides along North Temple in the fog and inversion on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

“The really fine particulates, those are such a small size that you breathe it in and it gets in the lungs and from there it goes into the blood stream,” Blagev said. “Those particles are what increases inflammation and actually increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.”

Intermountain Medical Center said it usually takes several consecutive days of unhealthy air quality for doctors to see an increase in patients dealing with respiratory illnesses. That hasn’t happened so far this season.

“My asthma gets worse, sometimes I get pneumonia,” said Diana Handrahan about the effects of the inversion.

The Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City is all but lost in the fog and inversion on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

The Layton resident avoids exercising outside and wears a mask with a carbon filter when she does venture outside. Even so, she still feels tired and sick when the air quality reaches unhealthy levels.

“I just cough a lot, (and) have a hard time breathing,” Handrahan said. “My chest gets tight. I wheeze more.”

Blagev’s advice to residents is to pay attention to how they feel, regardless of what the air quality monitors indicate on any particular day.

“It’s more about, ‘Does this feel like a severe life-threatening problem?’ in which case it’s got to be checked out because it could be related to the inversion,” Blagev said. “It could be a bad asthma attack, or something like that, but it could be something else.”

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Utah’s Bad Wintertime Air Creates Health Risks