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Air pollution building in northern Utah: How long will it last?

State headed into inversion season, burn restrictions

SHARE Air pollution building in northern Utah: How long will it last?

Smog settles over Davis County on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — State air quality regulators say stagnant weather and cold conditions are contributing to a buildup of harmful fine particulate pollution into Friday, so residents in impacted areas are being asked to drive less and refrain from burning wood.

The call for precautionary measures to thwart additional accumulation of that fine particulate pollution, or PM2.5, comes even as the Utah Department of Environmental Quality announces the Nov. 1 start of its wood-burning alerts as the state enters inversion season.

“We are entering our typical inversion season when we have a high pressure system move in, with cold temperatures in the valley,” said Bryce Bird, the state agency’s director of the Division of Air Quality.

Bird said the pollution becomes tamped down and tends to last until the next storm comes in and blows it out, but in this case warmer temperatures and a weak storm front north of Utah will mix it up enough that conditions return to “green.”

The state uses a color-coded system to inform residents of when travel advisories are issued to lessen pollution, and people are either asked voluntarily to refrain from using wood-burning devices or mandated that no burning occur.

Green means good conditions, yellow is moderate and red days mean mandatory restrictions are put into place.

In the case of Salt Lake County, however, it modified restrictions to include yellow or moderate conditions in the mandatory category — meaning no wood burning is allowed and people should drive less.

Residents can check conditions county by county where air monitors are in place by going to the Division of Air Quality’s website at air.utah.gov.

People can also download a free app with their smartphone called Utah Air to become informed about current conditions in their area.

The Wasatch Front and Cache County frequently struggle with air quality as inversions set in over snow-covered ground and weather becomes stagnant.

The area’s topography helps to trap harmful emissions that lead to premature deaths because the particles are so small they are inhaled into the lungs.

Over the years, Utah’s Air Quality board has implemented a number of rules aimed at decreasing emissions. While nearly 50% of pollutants come from vehicle tailpipes, regulators warn that as combustion-engine cars become cleaner burning and lower polluting fuel spreads out into the market, the chief source of pollutants will be homes and businesses.

Many of the rules passed by the board tackle emissions from businesses that include automobile repair shops and manufacturing industries.

Rules have even targeted hot water heaters or the hairspray sold in stores.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s 2020 fiscal year budget included a request for $100 million to tackle air pollution problems.

Lawmakers invested $29 million in one-time money to further pollution reducing strategies, a historic amount.