Experts Find Small Pandemic Changes Had Big Impact On Utah Air Quality

Apr 22, 2021, 10:43 PM | Updated: 10:45 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Once a year in a global event, people come together to celebrate the beautiful natural resources we share on Earth Day.

The COVID-19 pandemic has showed us even small changes in our daily routine can have a significant impact on our environment. One outdoorsy Utah couple definitely saw those changes.

Cherry and Donny Hazard are the ultimate adventurers.

“Oh, I love the outdoors so much. I moved to Utah because it’s Utah. I love it!” Cherry Hazard explained.

From seeking out breathtaking views in canyons, on mountains and rivers, they do it all.

“(Utah) has everything from the salt flats to the canyon country to red rock to the mountains … just gorgeous. There’s great rivers, there’s great lakes,” she said. “It’s so healing; it’s so balancing.”

The Hazards own a whitewater rafting company, which is one reason they’re passionate about caring for our state’s natural resources.

“We’re very big advocates of keeping our rivers pure and clean and natural. We are big into Leave No Trace because the rivers are our life,” Hazard said. “Whatever happens with them pollution-wise will cause issues downstream into so many communities and ecosystems, and so it can cause so much impact.”

Hazard grew up in the Northeast and worked for several years in New York City. She grew tired of the city’s pollution and headed to Utah for better air and Utah’s marvelous landscape.

In the 10 years Hazard has lived in Utah, she’s seen her fair share of bad air days brought on by the inversion. “You don’t even want to be outside, let alone doing anything that’s going to impact your cardiorespiratory system,” she said.

But she said this year, during the pandemic, was different.

“I could breathe easier, and it just didn’t have that smell, that taint — that ugly greenish-yellowish-grayish look,” Hazard said. “The Earth itself did have a chance to heal, to rest, to pause, to breathe a little bit better.”

She believes the reprieve in pollution has not only benefitted humankind, but also wildlife and water quality.

Intermountain Healthcare’s Dr. Liz Joy, senior medical director of wellness and nutrition for the health care company, confirmed Utah saw a reduction in many air pollutants with 40% fewer cars on the road in March 2020 through the summer.

“We saw a decrease in nitric oxide, a decrease in PM 2.5, as well as a decrease in our summer ozone levels,” Joy described.

Despite higher-than-normal temperatures last summer, the Wasatch Front had one of the best air quality years on record with 273 green days, 78 yellow, 14 orange, and only one red day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Joy said this illustrates better air quality for Utah is a tangible possibility.

“We definitely have the ability to clean the air by, in particular, reducing tailpipe emissions,” she said.

But today, Joy says we are essentially back to prepandemic levels of traffic. She said air pollution is bad for everyone, including those with health challenges, and even kids.

“It’s particularly bad for people who have underlying conditions — so older adults who may have a higher burden of disease like heart disease and stroke,” she explained. “Air pollution is bad for kids because they tend to be outside more, they breathe faster and deeper, and exposure to air pollution in childhood can actually cause asthma, not only make asthma worse.”

Where possible, she encourages people to telework and urges employers to be creative in finding ways to accommodate teleworking policies.

“The less we drive, the less ozone we make, so efforts to continue teleworking are going to be really important,” she said.

Joy is also concerned by the high levels of pollution Utahns create in caring for their lawn.

“We have a lot of grass in Utah — despite the fact that we live in a desert — and gas-powered lawnmowers emit a tremendous amount of pollution,” she said. “A gas-powered lawnmower emits 11 times more pollution than a new car (hour-for-hour).”

Joy recommends people invest in electric or human-powered lawn equipment, or xeriscape their yard instead.

She also urges people to reduce the number of times they hit the road by “trip chaining,” since the initial cold start of a car puts off the most pollutants.

Trip chaining is “trying to do all your car-based errands at once so that you’re not starting and stopping multiple times throughout the day,” she explained. “So go from your house to the grocery store, and from your grocery store to the dry cleaner, and then maybe to the school to pick up your kids.”

Joy invites everyone to make one simple change to make Mother Earth a beautiful place for everyone to enjoy. “My message on Earth Day is: It’s Earth Day every day, right? We need to be stewards of our resources and care for our environment,” she said.

“We should all do our part, what little it is,” Hazard added. “Just to leave places that we visit better than they were before we came.”

KSL 5 TV Live

Your Life Your Health

Talk to Tweens...

Ayanna Likens

A resource to help connect with your tween

Navigating the transition from childhood to teen years can be difficult as kids experience new emotions for the first time.

7 days ago

Chef Alex Govern...

Ayanna Likens

‘Food is Medicine’: New thinking about hospital food

When you think of a hospital, 5-star dining doesn't come to mind. Intermountain Health chefs are working to change that.

13 days ago

Hyrum Black's helmet...

Ayanna Likens

Why it’s important to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle

As we approach the 100 Deadliest Days on the road, Intermountain Health doctors said this is the time of year we see more motorcycle drivers on the road and less helmets, but it's crucial to wear one.

21 days ago

4-year-old Alden...

Ayanna Likens

Why asthma symptoms can increase in the spring

Spring is known for allergies, but it can also increase asthma symptoms.

28 days ago

Laura Bushman vaccines...

Ayanna Likens

Why it’s important to get your children vaccinated

It's World Infant Immunization Week, Intermountain Health doctors have highlighted the importance of getting your children under two vaccinated.

1 month ago

B3 Kids, brain body boost...

Ayanna Likens

Online resource helps students learn about physical and mental health

Teaching kids how to keep their bodies healthy is important, a program through SelectHealth now offers a fun way to learn about physical and mental health inside the classroom.

1 month ago

Sponsored Articles

Brunette guy in headphones playing games on his desktop computer...

PC Laptops

Looking For a New Computer? Use This Desktop Buying Guide

Choosing a new desktop computer can come with a lot of questions, so we created this desktop buying guide.

Portrait of happy boy playing and splashing water in the swimming pool...

Get Out Pass

Family Fun Activities in Utah You Have to Try This Summer

These family fun activities will entertain you all summer, so if you ever feel stuck in a rut wondering what to do, refer to this guide!

Woman IT specialist in elegant suit working on notebook computer in data center next to server rack...

Les Olson

Your Complete Guide to Outsourcing IT Services

This guide covers everything you need to know about the different benefits of outsourcing IT services to meet your small business needs.

diverse group of friends dance outside under string lights...

Lighting Design

5 Frequently Asked Questions About Outdoor Lighting

Read for the most frequently asked questions about outdoor lighting to help narrow the search for your home.

Stack of old laptops with dark background...

PC Laptops

Old Laptop Upgrades You Need to Try Before Throwing it Away

Get the most out of your investment. Try these old laptop upgrades before throwing it out to keep it running fast and efficient.

Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...

BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.

Experts Find Small Pandemic Changes Had Big Impact On Utah Air Quality