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Utah's double-whammy air quality concerns doctor

Posted at 2:12 PM, Jul 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-12 19:36:48-04

MILLCREEK, Utah — As hikers and mountain bikers made their way up Millcreek Canyon Monday, they weren’t greeted with the same gorgeous views they are used to. Instead, the smoky air clouded much of the normally never-ending skyline.

“Usually I stop and I am like, ‘Wow,’ and this time I was like, ‘ohhhh, dang it’,” Max Mauldin said.

Mauldin and a few of his family members spent the morning mountain biking.

“Took a nice ride. Got dropped off up at Big Cottonwood and try to take advantage of the low traffic on a weekday,” he said.

Air quality was a concern, Ian Spencer said.

“Yeah, I was actually [concerned], knowing it could possibly be bad air but we thought when we were up a little higher it would be better air up there,” he said.

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Salt Lake County’s air quality forecast through Utah’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) was in the orange, or unhealthy for sensitive groups category.

Dr. Dixie Harris, a pulmonary medicine physician with Intermountain Healthcare, says people should be paying attention to the air quality forecast.

“Anything that you inhale into your lungs other than clean air can could potentially irritate, inflame and damage the lungs,” she said.

Harris says the current air quality is concerning.

“The things I worry about is it going to flare up somebody who maybe has a little bit of mild asthma, is it going to flare the lungs up? Or is it going to do things like very much irritate and burn the lungs, like, for example, ozone would burn the bronchial tubes,” she said, “Somebody with underlying lung disease, this bad air can really aggravate their lungs or, I even put into this category, people who are still recovering from COVID, this bad can be very bad for their lungs.”

The particulates in the air, coupled with the heat wave is causing for a double whammy when it comes to air quality concerns added Harris.

“So, if we can’t see the mountains then we know there are a lot of particulates in the air but also when we are in a heat wave we also worry about the ozone levels,” she said.

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If the air quality gets bad enough, it could become dangerous for everyone.

“When the air quality gets bad enough, it can damage and impact everybody’s lungs. And, so when we get into the red and even worse, like the maroon air, then we have to really be aware that somebody with totally healthy, normal lungs, really shouldn’t be going out spending a lot of time running when the air quality is really bad,” said Harris.