I recently moved to Columbus, Ohio from Salt Lake City, Utah, a place we enjoyed albeit with some notable exceptions, including the poor air quality during the winter.
The Wasatch Front is plagued with persistent cold air pools in the winter; known more informally as temperature inversions. These occur when high pressure settles in over the Intermountain West, causing cold air to settle in the valleys and trapping pollutants. Inversions are becoming more chronic with climate change, and more people and especially vehicles in the Salt Lake Valley is creating among the worse PM2.5 pollutant problem in the United States. PM2.5 is particulate matter that is 2.5 microns in size or smaller; this is very nasty stuff that penetrates deep in your lungs and crosses into the bloodstream to affect much of your body.
A recent study by BYU economist Arden Pope and the Salt Lake Tribune suggests the toll being taken on a vulnerable population in Utah – children. Evidence suggests that school absences correlate with PM2.5 levels. The number of elementary students absent from school increase with air pollution levels in Salt Lake City, Provo and Alpine. However, in mountainous Park City, which sits above the haze, school absences rose before and after weekends and holiday breaks, but were otherwise flat. [ Bad air: Pollution and school absences]
I’ve also done some research on air quality issues in northern Utah, showing that the air quality alert system may be increasing, not decreasing, the amount of driving in Utah. [Utah’s Air Quality Alerts May Have Inadvertently Put More Cars on the Road]