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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Lets talk Inversion

Smoggy Cities and Inversion: Air Quality Issues in Salt Lake City, Utah


I am lucky to say air quality was something I never worried about while living in a small town in coastal Connecticut.  That all changed when I moved to Utah.  Here in Salt Lake City, it is a problem, especially in the winter.  I have had to do some research to understand and prepare better for air quality, especially when I want to go running.  This is also a little update for my friends back east who have no idea what inversion and bad air quality is either.  This inversion comes right at the beginning of my "running season" and really affects those who are active and love the outdoors (me!)

Taken from the New York Times, February 2013 looking over Salt Lake City, Utah 

What is Inversion? " normal atmospheric conditions (cool air above, warm air below) become inverted. Inversions trap a dense layer of cold air under a layer of warm air. The warm layer acts much like a lid, trapping pollutants in the cold air near the valley floor. The Wasatch Front valleys and their surrounding mountains act like a bowl, keeping this cold air in the valleys. The warm inversion air layer is usually displaced by a strong storm system which restores air quality to healthy levels." This City Website

"According to the division, Salt Lake County has experienced 22 days this winter (written 2013)  in which pollution levels exceeded federal air quality standards, compared with just one last year." New York Times

Wintertime Inversion Period:  December through February. 

You can see the valley and how the air gets trapped Source

What is the major cause of the air pollution? "Utah residents may be surprised to discover that vehicles and urban "area sources" contribute the largest proportion of the emissions responsible for the formation of fine particulates".

What is PM 2.5? PM 2.5 stands for Particulate Matter 2.5 and are partiuclate matters less than or equal to 2.5 micrometers in diamterer.  Primary PM2.5 is emitted directly as a particle and enters the atmosphere as soot from roadways or tailpipe emissions. Secondary particulates form when precursor emissions react in the atmosphere and combine to create PM2.5.
Why is PM 2.5 a problem?  "Fine particulate matter poses serious health concerns because it can pass through the nose and throat, lodge deeply in the lungs, and pass across the lungs into the cardiovascular system. Particles can aggravate lung diseases such as asthma and bronchitis, and increase respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath. PM2.5 can aggravate heart conditions, including congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease".
What are the major sources of PM 2.5? Believe it or not it is not industry, but it is mobile and area sources-- too many cars on the road.  
What this means for me? This inversion and poor air quality hits right in time for the cold, aka my favorite running season. Just as the temperatures cool and I start to enjoy running more, now I can't run in the city. I have friends at the University who said people walking around with masks, will have a black mask by the end of the day from the smog. Now this is not air I want to breath while running and this is not air I want my dog to breathe. The best way to avoid the poor air quality is to head up in the mountain to run where you can get above the pollution. This also means intense elevation and altitude running which is a struggle for me!  I downloaded the UtahAir app which gives me a report for the day's air quality.  I biked home from class and can still taste the exhaust! The snow storm this weekend should clear the smog out and bring the air quality back up.

There is hope!   According to my Law Professor during out discussion of the Clean Air Act, Portland Oregon was able to reduce its air pollution by getting a ton of cars off the road.  How?  Making parking so expensive and public transportation so convenient. (Will have to check with Wandering Portlander to see if this is true!) 

Here in Salt Lake City public transportation is not convenient and expensive, meanwhile, parking is cheap and the city is very drive-able.  This air quality is a big reason people end up leaving Salt Lake City and after reading some of the facts... I get it!

Looks like its treadmill running (no dog) 
or up in the mountains (dog but a tough run) for me for a bit! 

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