Officials discuss air quality after yellow air days in southern Utah

Posted at 8:52 PM, Jun 05, 2014

ST. GEORGE, Utah - Typically known for blue skies and sunny days, St. George residents have found themselves in the middle of a string of yellow air days.

For the most part, air quality is always green, but health officials said that during this time of year, pollutant levels can creep into the unhealthy category

“We don’t have haze and smog that you see in the more urban areas,” said Southwest Public Health environmental health director Robert Beers. “But today there is some haze about.”

“We’ve noticed the haze,” St. George resident Felica Sorensen said. “In fact, we like to open our windows at night, because of the cool air, but we’ve just kept them closed because of the smoke mostly.”

That smoke has likely blown in from a wildfire at the Grand Canyon, and health directors said we also get stuck with pollution from Las Vegas. It’s the unfortunate combination of geography and weather patterns.

“Washington County is kind of the catchall,” Beers said. “It’s the high point for the Mojave Desert, so a lot of that stuff blows here and stays here.”

Because it’s not such an issue here in Southern Utah, the Department of Environmental Quality doesn’t monitor air quality as closely as it does in other parts of the state. That doesn’t mean it’s overlooked. Local governments have formed a clean air task force, looking at ways to address air quality issues and, what they say is a growing problem, as the city gets bigger.

“Through that we’ve been able to curb a lot of the dust related issues,” Beers said. “Concrete, gravel operations, and those kinds of things.”

The DEQ forecasts yellow air quality days through the rest of the week in Washington County, that means voluntary action is suggested to help keep pollutants low, and people sensitive to pollutants should consider staying indoors, but residents said that may be difficult when it’s not something they’re used to.

“It seems so beautiful most of the time,” St. George resident Kacee Weldin said. “And then it’s windy and blows straight through.”

For more information on yellow air days and to see current air quality levels, visit the state’s air quality website.