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Summer Ozone Season

By Bo Call

As the snow melts, so does our memory of winter inversions and bad air days. But with the spring and warmer temperatures also comes the summer ozone season. DEQ’s Air Monitoring Center is now gearing up to battle Utah’s other air-quality demon—ozone. And it’s a battle that’s harder to fight. Just like wintertime, we post a three-day air quality forecast, along with real-time monitoring information, on our website (also available on the UtahAir app) as a way to help people manage their health and activities. The fine particulate pollution common in the winter is easier for us to

Summer Ozone

Bo Call, Utah Division of Air Quality Air Monitoring Manager, checking monitoring equipment at the Air Monitoring Center chase. Our mountain-valley topography traps the pollutants and puts us in an inversion that lasts until the next storm blows through. If we continue to burn wood and drive cars—the primary sources of pollution—it will start to fill up the valley like water running in a bathtub that keeps overflowing until we pull the plug or turn off the tap.

Ozone is a more fickle beast.

Ground-level ozone is created much the same as winter inversion fine particulates. It is not emitted directly in the air, but created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—emissions from industrial facilities and motor vehicle exhaust. During the summer, these chemicals react with sunlight to create ozone, and as temperatures change throughout the day so do the levels of ozone. Subtle changes can move the ozone needle either above or below the healthy mark—making forecasting much more difficult and often looking more like guesswork.

One of the major factors in ozone formation is sunlight. Cloud cover can slow down or turn off the reaction that produces ozone, which makes it pretty difficult to predict those weather events that will influence ozone levels and those that won’t. We’ll wait until 7 p.m. to make our forecast for the next day’s commute. An unusually calm night with warm temperatures could mean the ozone levels don’t go down as expected. A summer monsoon could clear the pollution out when we had predicted high levels.

When it comes to your health—and our predictions take this into account—we prefer to err on the side of caution. Foul air may or may not be unhealthy at any given time of the day. Specific to ozone, the air quality is generally better in the mornings, so taking advantage of any opportunity to shift outdoor activity to morning hours is a good move. If we’re wrong about our forecast, the only consequence is cleaner air—and the bathtub just drained a little more.

Make sure you check our current conditions and forecast, or download our UtahAir app, available for Android and iOS. Visit UCAIR for what you can do to help improve air quality.

I have been with the Division of Air Quality (DAQ) for 21 years, Ozonemanaging the air monitoring section since 2009. Prior to that I worked in DAQ’s compliance branch and conducted source inspections, specializing in asbestos rules and enforcement. I have a BA in Biology from Utah State University. I am a member of the Air Force Reserve as a Transportation Specialist. On my own time, I have a hobby farm and recently entered into the realm of beekeeping.

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