The past 16 days have been declared red Air Pollution Alert days by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, and that's bad news for some people's health.

"It's definitely a record for July," said Donna Spangler, department public affairs officer. "We have never had this many red air days in a row."

The determining pollutant in the summer is ozone, Spangler said. An alert is typically issued if ozone levels in the air are expected to exceed .085 parts per million over an eight-hour period. Employees at the air monitoring center look at readings from monitors throughout the state and determine the likelihood of conditions being hazardous the following day.

"If the ozone looks like it is rising to a level that may come close to that .085 ppm, (the air monitoring center manager) sort of pulls the trigger and says we're going to go red," Spangler said.

The first red alert day for the summer was issued on July 14, and the department has just continued issuing alerts as conditions remained approximately the same, she said.

Ozone levels have been high over the past sixteen days because of the heat, Spangler said. The average high over this period was just over 100 degrees, and heat plays an important role in the creation of ozone. As chemicals from automobiles and other emissions are combined with high temperatures and sunlight, ozone is created.

Ozone levels at .085 ppm can cause problems for people with asthma or respiratory disease, as well as those with heart disease. People with these conditions, as well as young children, are encouraged to stay indoors on red alert days, especially in the mid-morning and afternoon, when conditions are worse.

To combat high ozone levels and avoid creating a hazardous situation for those at risk, department officials recommend leaving cars parked and taking mass transit whenever possible. Additionally, activities such as mowing the lawn should be postponed, since mowing a lawn with a gas-powered mower for one hour produces as much pollution as driving a car 50 miles.

It is a little hard to stomach not mowing the lawn for two and a half weeks, but Spangler said the end is in sight. Temperatures are forecasted to start dropping as August begins, and falling temperatures correspond with falling ozone levels.


E-mail: dmaxfield@desnews.com