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Cold snap brings worsening air quality

FILE - The storm lingers after the first snow in Salt Lake County on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016. The season's first brush with wintry weather was accompanied by worsening air quality Saturday into Sunday, with the Utah Division of Air Quality advising that c
FILE - The storm lingers after the first snow in Salt Lake County on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016. The season's first brush with wintry weather was accompanied by worsening air quality Saturday into Sunday, with the Utah Division of Air Quality advising that conditions in Salt Lake Valley are "moderate" and people should voluntarily limit driving.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Stagnant air and low temperatures hovering in the 30s will combine to produce worsening air quality, with "moderate" conditions predicted Sunday in Salt Lake County and elsewhere along the Wasatch Front.

Those moderate conditions, in particular, mean mandatory wood-burning restrictions kick in for Salt Lake County because of rules passed by the Salt Lake County Board of Health.

Under voluntary action elsewhere, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality's air quality division is asking people to voluntarily refrain from burning wood, driving and other pollution causing activities.

With the smog season perched on Utah's doorstep, the division is urging people to use online and mobile tools for better monitoring of daily air particulates.

The air quality alert system, developed with input from the public, is designed to convey complex health implications and activity restrictions related to air pollution. There is also a phone app, UtahAir, that taps into the division's air quality alert system that allows users to receive burn-ban alerts, three-day forecasts and other information to help plan daily activities around air quality conditions.

The app is available on the division's website.

“The UtahAir app is our most popular tool because Utahns can quickly click on the information they need at any time and anywhere,” said Bryce Bird, division director. “This is important information people can access in order to make daily decisions that will improve air quality during the upcoming winter inversion season.”

The DAQ’s alert system includes action alerts that are denoted by symbols. Unrestricted has a circle symbol, meaning wood- and coal-burning stoves can be used under conditions that minimize air pollution emissions. Voluntary action is accompanied by an inverted triangle symbol, meaning residents should voluntarily refrain from burning wood stoves or fireplaces, and limit motor vehicle travel. Mandatory action has an X symbol, denoting the prohibition of the use of wood or coal stoves and calls for reduction in travel.

Mandatory restrictions can result in penalties of up to $299 a day if someone violates the no-burn rule.

Another component of the division's alert system is health guidance derived from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Air Quality Index. That index is divided into six, color-coded categories that correspond to different levels of pollution and corresponding guidance for individuals who may have health concerns.

Residents can also check conditions at the division's website.

Northern Utah periodically suffers from some of the worst air pollution conditions in the country, fueled by frigid wintertime temperature inversions.

Pollution problems have prompted Utah lawmakers to pony up additional money for research, require less polluting hot water heaters and even ponder the ramifications of a wood-burning ban during the winter.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has pushed area refineries to accelerate their conversion to low sulfur, cleaner burning "Tier 3" gasoline, and advocates have pressed for enhanced energy efficiency standards to decrease emissions from homes and small businesses.

It is likely the next legislative session will bring a number of new proposals to help the state grapple with its pollution issues, including a move by Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, to extend the state tax credit for alternative fuels vehicles.