Experts discuss air quality guidelines at schools on yellow air day

Posted at 7:13 PM, Dec 03, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-04 09:13:25-05

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – A yellow air day brought concerns about being outside to Salt Lake residents, but it wasn’t enough to keep students indoors at local schools.

Particulate levels reached 15 ug/m3 across the Salt Lake Valley Thursday. The Utah Department of Health has guidelines recommending administrators keep students indoors starting at 35.4 ug/m3. Rosecrest Elementary School principal Tina West said it’s a number she closely monitors during inversion season.

“We look at it in a couple of different ways,” West said. “If it’s too cold outside, we let kids in early in the morning. When the particulate matter gets too high, we recommend they stay inside.”

Utah Department of Health Epidemiologist Dr. Nathan LaCross said the guidelines are not mandates, but are put out to try to help school districts gauge dangerous levels. He said the recess guidelines are a bit stricter than normal DEQ designations.

“[The inversion] has the potential to be quite unhealthy,” LaCross said. “There are always populations that are going to be more susceptible to symptoms and are going to see larger and more serious effects.”

While those charts and colors do a lot of good on a county and valley-wide basis, directors of the Utah Clean Air partnership worry about the area immediately outside of schools. Director Ted Wilson said areas like the carpool lane in front of a school could be creating a micro inversion that is even more dangerous for kids.

“If people would be careful not to idle their engine in a school zone, because even on a good air day, that air can accumulate, around the school itself,” Wilson said.

LaCross said the inversion is one of the main health concerns this time of year, and that’s why they work closely with schools and other groups to raise awareness. More information on staying safe during poor air quality days can be found here.