Forecasters are predicting nice weather for the holiday weekend. But clear, quiet skies also mean higher ozone pollution that can cause health problems.
Ozone is Utah’s “other” pollution. It’s odorless and colorless. But this summertime pollutant still poses a hazard to health. Bo Call supervises pollution monitoring for the Utah Division of Air Quality.
“High pressure’s moving in, and so we’re going to be pretty stable there for a few days,” he says. “And that’s typically when we see ozone goes up, so we forecasted higher ozone over the next few days through the Fourth.”
This isn’t the ozone that’s high in the atmosphere, the protective kind that shields out harmful sun rays. This is a ground-level pollutant, a kind of pollution stew that forms when chemicals and exhaust cook in the air with heat and sunshine.
Much of the West has background levels of ozone that are surprisingly high, close to the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard of 75 parts per billion. And high levels cause what some describe as a sunburn on the lungs.
Call says ozone comes from things people do.
“Anything we can do to take public transportation to use cleaner combustion engines, whether that be a cleaner weed whacker or lawn mower or automobile or generator or whatever we’re using, that will tend to reduce pollution and, in the end, that all helps.”
Division of Air Quality studies have shown high levels even in the mountains and less developed parts of Utah. People who want to stay safe from ozone can simply avoid outdoor activity and heavy exertion in the afternoon, when ozone is high.
“Just being aware that it does affect children,” says Shelley Marshall, a member of Utah Moms for Clean Air and a former pediatric nurse. “They do breathe faster – so they’re taking in these toxins more quickly than an adult would. With that said, we’re all affected.”
Marshall takes her children to the forests around Park City on high pollution days, and she encourages less vigorous activities.
The Division of Air Quality posts pollution forecasts on the web. It also sends email alerts when pollution levels are getting worrisome.