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How Utah's poor air quality impacts our bodies

Posted at 5:48 PM, Jul 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-26 19:48:30-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Haze and smoke are causing air quality issues throughout Salt Lake County.

For much of the day Monday, particulate matter readings recorded by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality hovered around 30 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

That is a concerning level for scientists and medical professionals.

“We would like to have it down to around 12 or 10,” said Bo Call with the Utah Division of Air Quality. “During the summer without wildfire impact, we are usually single digits.”

The pollution is visible anytime someone steps outside or looks out a window. Smoke from western wildfires is blamed for the bulk of the current problem.

“It may in fact be as much as 10 times more toxic to the lungs than the particulate pollution out of a tailpipe or smokestack,” said Dr. Brian Moench, the president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. “It's very concerning. It’s similar to if we were all smoking a few cigarettes.”

Those microscopic particles find their way into our bodies as we breathe.

“Any particle small enough to inhale will be a health hazard,” Dr. Moench said. “These little, tiny particles act like foreign invaders, and they trigger an inflammatory process that basically your whole body can react to.”

The pollution is concerning to Dr. Moench because poor air quality is often linked to diseases like cancer.

A new concern is COVID-19.

A recent study by the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology links a rise in air pollution to a surge in case of COVID-19.

“The kind of white blood cells that might scavenge a bacteria or a virus, they are somewhat disabled,” Dr. Moench said.

He would like to see more done to solve the issue of air pollution beyond the current issue of wildfire smoke.

Dr. Moench hopes lawmakers will take steps to enact solutions that clean the air.

He advises residents to purchase an air purifier for their homes.

A more inexpensive solution is to attach a HEPA filter to a fan to create a makeshift air purifier.