The Wasatch mountains are a major draw for people moving to the Salt Lake area. They provide year round opportunities for recreation, a scenic backdrop for everyday life, and high quality drinking water. But our beloved peaks are also part of a geographic and atmospheric equation that result in a significant air-quality problem. Whether you are a seasoned Salt Laker, or thinking of moving to Salt Lake, here are the simple facts you should know about air quality in the Salt Lake Valley.
Salt Lake was recently ranked as having the 7th worst air quality in the nation, tied with Las Vegas, Nevada and Sacramento, California. This undesirable designation happens when warm air traps cold air in the valley and creates what is known as an inversion. Just as the cold air cannot escape, neither can pollution. The longer the inversion lasts, the worse the air becomes. And it continues to worsen until a storm or wind blows through the valley to clear it out. Utah Clean Air has produced some helpful videos that clearly illustrate the mechanics of an inversion.
Inversion + Pollution = Unhealthy Air
The air quality index is used to measure the cleanliness of our air. A daily score is given based on a composite of five common pollutants. Of the five pollutants, the most problematic here in Salt Lake City are ground level ozone and particulate matter, especially fine particulate matter (PM2.5).
According to Breathe Utah, “Nearly 100% of PM2.5 in Utah comes from consuming one of three fuels: gasoline, diesel, and coal. At least half of the air pollution along the Wasatch Front comes from the gasoline and diesel we burn in our cars and trucks.”
Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE) is clear with their message about the consequences of this problem, “Air pollution’s disease burden is virtually the same as that from cigarette smoke–the association is weaker but still significant. Virtually every type of lung disease is caused or exacerbated by air pollution.” And the negative health consequences are not limited to respiratory issues. For a comprehensive list of all the risks associated with breathing polluted air, visit the UPHE website.
Take Steps to Address the Problem
We know why and how it happens but what is being done to mitigate the bad air? Air quality activist Erin Mendenhall was elected as Salt Lake City’s mayor in 2019. Niche Homes recently had the opportunity to ask her some questions about her mission to improve the air quality in the Salt Lake area. Her responses can be found here.
Mayor Mendenhall is hopeful and told us, “The commitment and momentum to tackling these issues in our city is palpable. As mayor, I am doing everything I can to create more opportunities for our city to work toward cleaner air and I am optimistic about the progress we can make together.”
Indeed simple everyday actions add up to have a big impact. Each of us can reduce emissions by carpooling, trip chaining, and not idling. When possible, consider alternatives to driving such as walking or riding public transportation. Many local organizations are educating and motivating the people of Salt Lake to care about the air. Here is a list of just a few:
Inversion-Free Cities & Neighborhoods
The Salt Lake Valley inversion covers most of the Wasatch Front and extends from Logan to Payson. However, there is some reprise at higher elevations. Residents with health sensitivities often choose to live in higher-altitude suburbs and cities. Emigration Canyon, Jeremy Ranch in Parley’s Canyon, and some sections of the Suncrest, Draper development are just a few of the neighborhoods near Salt Lake that offer housing above the inversion line. Alternatively, air-sensitive residents can also choose to move farther east to Park City, Heber or Kamas.
Still a Great Place to Live
While the air quality issue is discouraging, Salt Lake City is taking great strides to curb the problem and encourage residents to take actionable steps for change. Residents follow air-quality alerts for staying inside or driving less on air-quality alert days. Schools do not send children outside when the air is unsafe. Air quality and pollution is something that growing cities all over the country are dealing with. Salt Lake City is at the forefront of this challenge and dedicated to improving air quality and maintaining our city’s high quality of living.