SLC issues summer pollution warning, which experts say is more difficult to escape than the heat

Jun 12, 2024, 10:47 PM | Updated: Jun 13, 2024, 10:09 am

SALT LAKE CITY — As Salt Lake City International Airport hit 99 degrees to mark the hottest day of the year so far, the city issued a new warning about rising pollution levels.

The Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office said Thursday would be an Orange Mandatory Action Day with the air Wednesday and Thursday officially considered unhealthy for sensitive groups.

“Please reduce vehicle trips and conserve energy where possible to protect our health and environment,” the mayor’s post on X read. “Together, we can improve our air quality and keep #SLC residents healthy.”

The post recommended taking public transit, carpooling, riding bicycles and walking; or even working from home if possible.

Dr. Brian Moench with Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment said one reason for the bad air quality was high ozone levels.

“The ozone levels are quite high,” Moench said. “Ozone is a chemical reaction in the atmosphere catalyzed by heat, so as the temperatures start to ratchet up, we’re going to have higher and higher levels of ozone.”

Moench said in many ways ozone can prove to be as toxic as particulate matter seen in winter inversions in Utah.

“People oftentimes think it’s just a problem with breathing or people who are asthmatic have more trouble, having to use their inhalers more often — it’s much more than that,” Moench said. “Virtually all the same kinds of diseases we know are related to air pollution exposure with particulate matter is also the case with ozone.”

Moench said people should avoid exercising during the peak of the afternoon and early evening and also can not contribute to pollution by avoiding the use of indoor gas stoves and barbecues.

Escaping the heat Wednesday proved as simple for some people as heading up to Big Cottonwood Canyon, where temperatures were about 15 degrees cooler at the site Max Sapiro found for fishing.

“Yeah, (we) definitely love coming up here during the summer where it’s a little bit cooler,” Sapiro said. “It was so hot just driving around, getting in the car and stuff, we figured we’d come up here and do a little fishing and a little reading.”

Hikers also found some relief.

“We drove 20 minutes and you’re in the canyon, you’re in the mountains and then it’s cool,” Robert Layosa said.

Moench said escaping the pollution wouldn’t be as easy, since — unlike particulate matter present in inversions — ozone can be found at higher elevations as well.

“Ozone formation can occur hundreds if not thousands of miles away from where the precursors are emitted and those precursors are VOCs — volatile organic compounds — and nitrogen oxides,” Moench said. “They may combine hundreds of miles away to form ozone — so it almost doesn’t matter where you live. It could be up in the mountains, it could be in a rural area; you’re still going to be exposed to high levels of ozone for that reason.”

Moench said people could do their part to mitigate summer pollution by not using gas stoves and barbecues.

Though summer is a peak time for barbecuing, Moench said people would be better off avoiding the smoke and seeking out foods with more antioxidants.

Regardless of the amount of success during his fishing trip, Sapiro was just content to enjoy a beautiful day in the mountains that provided at least some refreshment amid all the valley heat.

“(I) caught a couple of logs and that’s about it,” Sapiro said. “I’ll catch anything.”

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SLC issues summer pollution warning, which experts say is more difficult to escape than the heat