The following article is sponsored by UCAIR.
By Donna Kemp Spangler for DEQ and UCAIR
Utah’s winter chill is now upon us, and with that comes the infamous inversions, that for perhaps 10 terrible days of the year can be downright frightful and unhealthy.
We know we can’t completely prevent inversions. It is partly an act of nature. Under the right atmospheric conditions, our mountain-valley topography acts like a bowl, keeping cold air in the valleys. The snow-covered valley floors reflect, rather than absorb heat from the sun. Fog exacerbates the problem; facilitating chemical reactions from the other part we can control – vehicles, wood burning and industrial emissions – that create even more particles and higher pollutant concentrations.
The longer an inversion lasts, the higher the levels of pollution trapped under it. The warm inversion air layers are usually displaced by a strong storm system, which restores air quality to healthy levels.
But that doesn’t mean that we are completely helpless. We do know our actions can make a big difference. Every time we start our car, idle, light a fire, turn up the heat – it all contributes to a relentless, long-lasting chain of polluting events.
So just like we prepare for winter by winterizing our homes, consider the following 10 things as a to-do list of how to make our air quality better this winter:
- Drive your newest car, and get it tuned. A well-tuned vehicle runs more efficiently and captures much of the exhaust, rather than letting it escape the tailpipe and pollute the air.
- Don’t burn wood. You can replace that old wood-burning stove with a more efficient, cleaner electric or natural gas option. And remember, Utah regulations prohibit you from lighting a wood stove or fireplace on inversion days – with exception of those who use it as their sole source of heat.
- Be idle free; warm your vehicle by driving it.
- TravelWise! Work a flexible schedule – commute during non-peak driving times. If you can, work with your boss to telecommute on days the inversion is building.
- Trip chain. If you have to drive to work, take your lunch and plan to run all of your errands at once.
- Buy a transit pass or join a carpool group.
- Conserve energy. Buy energy star or energy efficient products.
- Buy less toxic or nontoxic materials. The Department of Environmental Quality’s consumer products rule establishes Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) limits in personal care, household and auto products. Lower VOCs in these products would reduce about 4,000 tons of emissions per year.
- Use a snow shovel, rather than a snow blower.
- Check the DEQ air quality forecast before you leave your home. You can also download the Utah Air App on your phone.
For more tips on what you can do to make a difference, visit the Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR) website at UCAIR.org.