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Doctor warns of health dangers from Utah's poor air quality

Posted at 5:32 PM, Aug 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-07 01:04:43-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The bad air that practically suffocated the Utah skyline Friday has created air pollution levels as bad as the state's winter inversion levels, according to one doctor.

Dr. Rob Paine, a pulmonologist with University of Utah Health, called the smoky air a "very intense period of pollution" — one he hopes will be short-lived.

"There is a great deal of exposure," said Paine.

The exposure Paine describes is more dangerous than what residents would experience in wintertime, and the chemicals in the wildfire smoke differ from man-made air pollutants.

READ: Salt Lake City air quality ranks among worst on the planet

Paine said the pollutant particles are smaller in the smoke, making them go deeper into lungs and remain there longer.

"They can cause inflammation; they can cause changes in blood clotting," he added. "They can trigger effects not just in the lungs, but in the heart."

The organs most impacted by air pollution are the heart, lungs and brain.

"It’s not going to cause them to develop asthma if they don’t already have it with these short periods," Paine said. "What you get with these short periods are triggers that make people who are already at risk have those sudden events that are problematic."

PHOTOS: Smoke causes hazy conditions across northern Utah

The amount of smoke blowing from the northwestern is also concerning.

Jason Curry with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands said he has never seen this amount of smoke from out of state before.

"It smells like there's a fire right nearby, which is unusual for smoke from out of state," he said.

The good news, Curry adds, is that there are no burning fires in the state contributing to the smoke.

"Utah’s been doing really well when it comes to human-caused fires," he said.

The Beehive State broke a record for fewer human-caused fires in the second half of July. There have been about 22 wildfires these past few weeks, and Curry says the average is usually double that.

READ: Utah 911 calls make big jump during wildfire smoke invasion

"We halved the human-caused and doubled the lightning-caused," Curry said.

Typically, about 50 lightning-caused fires spark in mid-summer. Due to the monsoon season, officials have seen 100 lightning-caused fires.

Even with the increase, Curry said they have been able to snuff out most fires before they grow more than 10 acres, with only 60-70 fires out of 800 having burned more.

Yet, if a fire were to spark in these poor air quality conditions, Curry said it could be devastating.

"It would be difficult to see and difficult for someone to report it," he said.