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By DEQ Communications Staff
Let’s face it, a thick, long-lasting inversion won’t help anyone’s mood or health this year. 2020 has been a year full of the unexpected. In these uncomfortable times, it would appear that something like the crackle and warmth of a wood fire could provide a sense of comfort and security. Or could it?
Wood smoke contributes to the dreaded inversions that impact northern Utah valleys by releasing volatile organic compounds (VOCs), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and other fine particulates (PM2.5) as the wood burns. In addition to the direct PM2.5 emitted from burning, VOCs and NOx react in the atmosphere with sulfur dioxide and ammonia to form even more PM2.5 through a process called secondary formation.
For this reason, wood- and solid-fuel-burning is restricted in parts of Northern Utah on days when levels PM2.5 could affect human health. These restrictions start Nov. 1 and run through March.
PM2.5 is small enough that it can bypass the human body’s natural filters and penetrate deeply into the lung, irritate airways and damage lung function. Children, the elderly and those with preexisting heart and lung conditions are the most susceptible to these health effects. When levels are high enough, all of us are impacted.
Restricting wood burning has proven an effective strategy to curb some of these emissions, and is implemented as a proactive measure when DAQ scientists see the potential for unhealthy levels of emissions in the coming days from vehicles, as well as wood and coal burning fireplaces or stoves.
By observing wood burning restrictions, Utah residents can improve our air quality and protect the health of their neighbors and loved ones.
ACTION ALERTS AND HEALTH GUIDANCE
Each day during the winter, DAQ meteorologists issue Action Alerts and Health Guidance to help residents plan ahead and adjust their activities during periods of winter inversion:
1 Action Alerts: Notify the public of the actions needed to combat current pollution levels. Three basic symbols are used to indicate unrestricted, voluntary and mandatory actions.
- Unrestricted Action (symbol = ⚫): Wood and coal burning stoves or fireplaces may be used, but please use them in a proper manner to reduce smoke emissions.
- Voluntary Action (symbol = ▼)*: Voluntarily do not use wood and coal-burning stoves or fireplaces. Reduce vehicle use by consolidating trips. Industry should optimize operating conditions to minimize air pollution emissions.
- Mandatory Action (symbol = X): Wood and coal burning stoves or fireplaces must not be used. Reduce vehicle use by consolidating trips. Industry should optimize operating conditions to minimize air pollution emissions.
When mandatory restrictions are in place, the use of solid fuel appliances may result in penalties up to $299 per day. If burning restriction violations are observed by the public, they should be reported to DAQ by calling 801-536-4000 during business hours or by filling out a simple form online.
*Salt Lake County has implemented mandatory burn restrictions on days when DAQ is calling for voluntary action.
2 Health Guidance: Helps determine how the highest pollution level of the day will affect human health. These are the green, yellow, orange or red ratings based on how much PM2.5 pollution is currently in the air.