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Recess Guidance Protects Kids During Poor Air-Quality Days

By Brittany Guerra, Guest Blogger

DEQ invites guest bloggers to share their thoughts on issues that impact our environment. We appreciate their insights and the opportunity to broaden the conversation with others in the community.

Winter months in Utah bring snow sports, holiday feasting, and seasonal inversions. As you’ve watched the mountain line slowly disappear behind a hazy fog of pollution, have you ever wondered what it means for your family’s health, and what you can do about it? If you have, you aren’t alone.

Inversion Pollution and Its Impact on Health

Utah Department of Health diagram showing how PM2.5 compares in size to a human hair
Click for larger view

During an inversion, air pollution, including PM 2.5, along with cold air gets trapped in the valley and builds until a storm front blows through.

Due to its small size, PM 2.5 can get deep into the lungs and can lead to a number of health issues, including aggravated asthma. For sensitive groups, including children or those with respiratory or heart conditions, PM 2.5 can have a greater health impact.

A Way to Protect – The Utah Recess Guidance

The Utah Recess Guidance is a set of air quality guidelines for schools to use in determining whether to move recess indoors based off of PM 2.5 levels. In 2016, a group of health scientists, parents, school personnel, and air quality advocacy groups updated the Guidance to be more protective and align with the EPA AQI recommendations.

What You Can Do As a Parent

Screenshot: Downloadable Recess Guide, Utah Department of Health and Human Services
Click to access a printable version of the recess guidance

You know your child’s needs best. Below are five things you can do to keep them safe during this year’s inversion season:

  1. Become a Guidance expert.
  2. Talk with your child’s doctor about whether your child is “sensitive” to poor air quality.
  3. Contact your child’s school to discuss when you want them to stay inside for recess based on their health needs.
  4. Be aware of current air quality levels. Visit DEQ for hourly PM2.5 levels and the air quality forecast.
  5. Do your part to reduce vehicle emissions during winter inversion months. Carpool, combine errand runs into one trip, use public transit, and don’t idle in your car longer than 10-30 seconds.
To learn more about the Recess Guidance, visit the Utah Asthma Program.  Be sure to check out our resources for parents  and schools, including a four-step plan for schools using the recess guidance, how to identify children who are sensitive to poor air quality, and how parents can advocate for their child’s health. If your child is sensitive to poor air quality, talk with your doctor about filling out  an Asthma School Form.  Looking for current air-quality conditions? Visit DEQ  for real-time air-quality data.
Brittany Guerra
I am the Health Program Specialist for the Utah Asthma Program, and am responsible for our health systems projects, media coordination, and Recess Guidance program. The Utah Asthma Program promotes comprehensive asthma care and services, which includes access to guidelines-based asthma clinical care, asthma self-management education, and understanding and reducing triggers for asthma attacks, including poor air quality. I grew up in Georgia, graduated from BYU with a Master’s of Public Health, and began working for the Utah Asthma Program in 2014. In my free time, I teach an online public health course for BYU-Idaho, travel as much as I can, and enjoy the amazing outdoors in Utah, including hiking, biking, and cross country skiing. 
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