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Wildfire Smoke Chokes Northern Utah, Raises Pollution

A screen shot from the EPA's AirNow web page showing elevated levels of pollution in much of Utah.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency/AirNow
The Environmental Protection Agency's AirNow web page shows how pollution monitors across northern and central Utah are detecting wildfire smoke.

Smoke from the Dollar Ridge wildfire in eastern Utah spread throughout northern and central Utah on Friday and raised particulate pollution.


Wildfire near the Strawberry Reservoir has so far burned 74 square miles.  A change in weather patterns carried the smoke to places as far away as Brigham City and Tooele. Air-quality monitors measured elevated pollution throughout northern and central areas of the state.


“This, unfortunately, has become our typical summer situation,” said Bryce Bird, director of the Utah Division of Air Quality. “And then, as the fire season picks up, it seems like there is always the availability of smoke to come into the valley — whether it’s from California, Oregon, Idaho or local fires here in Utah.”


PM2.5 is basically microscopic soot. During winter smog episodes, it primarily comes from vehicle engines, gas heaters and other forms of combustion. In the summer, heavy wildfire smoke is often to blame for high levels. The health impacts are the same in both seasons.


Current alerts about air quality being “unhealthy for people in sensitive groups” amount to advisories for the very young, the very old and people with heart and lung problems to consider taking precautions, since they are particularly vulnerable to pollution at these levels.


Bird said the protective steps people take during winter smog episodes are useful when pollution from the smoke is high.


“Whenever you’re breathing more deeply, more heavily, whenever you’re exercising, things like that, you’re bringing more particles into your lungs,” he said. “So, avoiding that exertion is really a good way to prevent the impacts from that air pollutant.


Bird also pointed out that the summer ozone season is here, too. It’s a different type of pollution, often described as being like getting a sunburn on the lungs.


He said everyone can help reduce both types of air pollution.


“Driving less, driving smarter … telecommute, use public transportation — those are all good ways that everyone can take part in reducing the concentrations by reducing the emissions that we produce as a society,” he said.


Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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