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Heat plus driving fuel fear of ozone buildup

Motorists urged to observe a voluntary no-drive today

SHARE Heat plus driving fuel fear of ozone buildup

If the current heat wave is making you sick, you're not alone.

State environmental regulators are reminding motorists that the combination of car fumes and heat can be a deadly brew.

"Even though we're doing better with pollution, you add to that record-high temperatures and it's a formula for disaster," said Rick Sprott, director of the Utah Division of Air Quality.

Hot temperatures are expected to rise throughout the week, sounding the state's alarm for voluntary no-drive days starting today and probably continuing through much of the week. Residents also are encouraged to take other measures to keep the air clear.

The problem: ozone — an invisible gas formed from vehicle emissions in the presence of heat and sunlight. And no wind means the pollution just hangs over us like a winter inversion. It's enough to send asthmatics indoors.

"Conditions are ripe all this week for more ozone, and there will be a definite risk to health, especially for our children and parents," Sprott added.

Salt Lake City reached 101 degrees Monday, not a record, but highs for today are expected to be 99-101 again. Temperatures in at least the upper 90s are predicted for the week.

Tooele did set a record high temperature Monday at 103, while Pleasant Grove tied its daily record at 98.

"This is shaping up to be the hottest July on record," Sprott noted.

The Division of Air Quality calls for voluntary no-drive days when pollution levels are expected to increase to unhealthy levels. It is especially troublesome for children with developing lungs and elderly people. Continued exposure to ozone can cause breathing problems, irritate eyes and reduce resistance to colds and other infections.

On Friday, five air monitors exceeded the federal health standard for ozone, which is set at 85 parts per billion. It was the fourth day in July that had ozone levels above the health standard.

"We are walking a very fine line with the ozone health standard," Sprott said. "What we're really concerned about is the day-to-day that affects people's health. When we have an exceedence on an individual day, that's when the rubber meets the road."

Air-quality regulators don't intend to admonish people who simply can't park their automobiles and walk to work. They, however, offer some tips that help limit the pollution, which include:

Carpooling or combining errands into one trip.

Filling automobile gas tanks in the evening or early morning.

Using electric yard equipment rather than gasoline-powered tools.

To avoid health problems, officials encourage people to limit strenuous outdoor activity during the hottest part of the day.

"If people have the time to plan and manage their lives, they can make arrangements to do some things," Sprott said. "We need to look at this as a personal stake in the health of our children and loved ones."

For more information, visit the Clean Air Utah Web site at cleanair.utah.gov or call the air pollution hotline, 975-4009 or 1-800-228-5434, for current air-quality conditions.

Contributing: Lynn Arave.

E-MAIL: donna@desnews.com