By Donna Kemp Spangler
Utah’s winter chill is creeping upon us, and with that comes the infamous inversions, that for perhaps 10 terrible days of the year have downright frightful and unhealthy air quality.
(And no, Phil, it’s not Smaug, it’s smog. )
We know we can’t completely prevent them. It is partly an act of nature. Under the right atmospheric conditions, our mountain-valley topography acts like a bowl, keeping cold air in the valleys. The snow-covered valley floors reflect rather than absorb the heat from the sun. Fog exacerbates the problem, facilitating chemical reactions from the other part we can control – vehicles, wood burning, and industrial emissions – that create even more particles and higher pollutant concentrations. The longer the inversion lasts, the higher the levels of pollution trapped under it. The warm inversion air layer is usually displaced by a strong storm system which restores air quality to healthy levels.
But that doesn’t mean we are completely helpless. We do know our actions can make a difference. Every time we start our car, idle, light a fire, turn up the heat, it all contributes to a relentless long-lasting chain of polluting events.
So just like we prepare for winter by winterizing our homes, consider the following 10 things as a “to-do” list of how to make our air quality better this winter:
- Drive your newest car, and get it tuned. A well-tuned vehicle runs more efficiently and captures much of the exhaust that escapes the tailpipe and pollutes the air.
- Don’t burn wood. You can replace that old wood-burning stove with a more efficient, cleaner electric or natural gas. And remember, Utah regulations prohibit you from lighting a wood stove or fireplace on inversion days – with the exception of those who use it as their sole source of heat.
- Don’t idle your car; warm your vehicle by driving it.
- Work a flexible schedule—commute during non-peak driving times. If you can, work with your boss and telecommute on days when the inversion is building.
- Know before you go. If you have to drive to work, take your lunch; plan to run all your errands at once.
- Buy a transit pass. Join a carpool group.
- Conserve energy. Buy energy star products or energy efficient products.
- Buy less toxic or nontoxic materials. DEQ’s consumer products rule establishes Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) limits in personal care, household and auto products. Lower VOCs in these products would reduce about 4,000 tons per year.
- Use a snow shovel rather than a snow blower. If you do use a snow blower, switch out your old gas can for an EPA-approved version.
- Check Department of Environmental Quality’s air quality forecast before you leave. Get the UtahAir app on your phone at your app store.
For more tips on what you can do to make a difference, visit Utah Clean Air Partnership, or UCAIR, or comment on this blog and tell us what’s on your to-do list to help improve Utah’s air.
I am the Communications Director for DEQ and a former reporter for the Deseret News. I write a monthly blog post.
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