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DEQ Forecasters Keep Their Eyes on the Sky during Ozone Season

By Kimberly Kreykes

Weather maps help DEQ scientists forecast air-quality conditionsLike many people, my day starts with the weather forecast. Not just because it is my passion, but because it is my responsibility to stay informed — I am the lead air-quality forecaster for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ’s) Division of Air Quality (DAQ). Along with two other DAQ forecasters, Shauna Ward and Kristy Weber, our team forecasts the air-pollution and action conditions for the state of Utah twice a day, 365 days a year.

For the morning forecast, all available members of the team individually review the atmospheric conditions and come to their own conclusions. Then, at 8 a.m. we meet and decide collectively on the forecast for the day. In the evening, the forecast is the responsibility of a particular team member who updates the forecast every evening for a week.

Summer Forecasts

I’m often asked what I look at and am looking for when I make the summer air-quality forecast. During the summer months, air-quality forecasters have two main concerns: summer ozone production and summer particulate-matter events.

Summer ozone is a health concern for many people. Ozone is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — emissions from industrial facilities, area sources, and motor-vehicle exhaust. During the summer, these chemicals react in the presence of heat and sunlight to create ozone.

The second concern is summer particulate matter (PM) events. These events include, but are not limited, to wildfire smoke, wind-blown dust, and fireworks. What this means is while many of the same atmospheric-forecasting products are used for both ozone and PM, there are a few specialized products that focus on PM forecasting.

Every day, the forecasters at DAQ search for new information sources and models to help improve the accuracy of the air-pollution forecast. While we use many sources to help us understand what’s going on in our atmosphere, the following five sources are the main ones we use to make the forecast call.

Monitor Measurements

I need to know what the monitoring equipment across the state is measuring. What are the local trends, and am I seeing a pattern? In this chart for PM2.5, the PM released from fireworks was captured at the Lindon monitor. This graph also shows the 1-hour and 8-hour average ozone values from the Lindon monitor during the same time period. When I combine the information from across the state I can infer how the previous day’s meteorological events affected the air-pollution measurements.

Meteorological Measurements

Normally, this is a quick check to make sure previous forecasts have verified. Where are the Highs and Lows located? What are the winds speeds? Where are the cold and warm fronts located? What are the temperature and dew point in the surrounding areas? This is all important information we need to know to make the most accurate air-pollution forecast.

Satellite Images

We use visible, water vapor, and infrared satellite images to expand on information measured at the surface. These images help us know what the moisture content of the air is, what the cloud thickness is, what the cloud heights are, where the fronts are located, and sometimes if smoke and dust are visible.

Hazard Mapping System Fire and Smoke Products and InciWeb

The Hazard Mapping System (HMS) Fire and Smoke product shows hot spots and smoke plumes that indicate possible fire locations. Significant smoke plumes detected by satellites are outlined, along with an estimate of the smoke concentration. The HMS is useful in finding potential, large fire locations, but confirmation of actual burning in necessary when wildfire smoke is suspected. Most states have a fire info webpage with information about large wildfires and prescribed burns. InciWeb, an interagency all-risk incident information-management system, contains information from across the United States, which helps us determine whether wildfire smoke is originating from outside the state.

For example, on June 25, 2017, the question on everyone’s minds was, “Is that smoke?” followed quickly by, “Is the smoke from the Brian Head fire?” Through analysis of the HMS and surface wind charts it was determined that, “Yes, it is smoke,” and “No, the smoke originated from several fires in Nevada.”

Meteorological Models

Once I have a strong understanding about the current state of the atmosphere, I want to look at the meteorological models. These are numerical models that predict the future meteorological conditions for their forecasting domain. I use the models to determine where clouds may form in the afternoon, how a cold front may move through the surrounding area, or where the afternoon wind speed and direction will push the ozone produced during the afternoon.

Meteorological models are not perfect, and with ozone levels, the most important factor for determining the difference between a “moderate” and an “unhealthy for sensitive people” forecast could be cloud development at 4 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. The limitation of wind and cloud modeling makes this aspect of the forecast less of a bright line and more of a fuzzy interpretation with a best guess.

Air-quality forecasting is both an art and a science. Although we have a wide range of scientific resources at our disposal, weather conditions can change quickly, and those changes can impact air-quality positively or negatively. We realize that many of you depend on our forecasts to plan your day and protect your health, so we do everything we can to ensure that you always have the most accurate, up-to-date information available.

One of most common questions I get from the public is, “Where can I find the air-pollution forecast?” The best place to find our forecast is on the DAQ website, or on the UtahAir app (Android or iOS). We also provide the forecast in a phone message (1-800-228-5434), but since the phone message can only be one and a half minutes long for all the action conditions for the state, the message ends up going by really fast during complex air-pollution days. I recommend using the website or the app to get the most recent and accurate air-quality information.

 I am an Environmental Scientist with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Air Quality.  I graduated with a Masters of Atmospheric Sciences from the University of Michigan.  In my spare time, I knit, read books, and play video games.





This entry was originally published on August 7th, 2017, updated on August 25th, 2017, and posted in news.

DEQ Monitoring Program Targets E. coli in Utah Waters

By DEQ Communications Office

E. coli. Photo credit: Centers for Disease Control

Escherichia coli (E.coli) have been in the news a lot lately. The outbreak in Hildale that claimed the lives of two children, a recent health advisory at Utah Lake’s Sandy Beach, and a boil water order in Lindon City last winter — all attributed to E. coli contamination. And while most large outbreaks of illness can be traced to contaminated food, E. coli can contaminate water as well.

E. coli are a large and diverse type of bacteria commonly found in the intestines and feces of healthy people and warm-blooded animals. While most strains of E. coli are harmless, some varieties can cause diarrhea, urinary-tract infections, and even pneumonia. Infections may be very mild, but some can be severe or even life-threatening.

The Utah Department of Health and local health departments are the front-line responders for illnesses caused by fecal contamination and have the authority to issue health advisories for E. coli, but the Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ’s) Division of Water Quality (DWQ) does its part to keep the public safe by monitoring Utah’s high-priority waterbodies for E. coli contamination.

E.coli in Recreational Waters

While the impact of E. coli in waterways doesn’t generally get the press coverage of foodborne illnesses or drinking-water boil orders, these pathogens can pose a risk to people recreating in lakes and streams.

E. coli makes its way into surface water and ground water through human and animal waste. Sources can include improper waste dumping, faulty septic tanks/sewer systems, stormwater runoff, and waste from dogs and livestock. Even large concentrations of waterfowl and other wildlife can cause problems. Recent research, for example, has shown that seagulls are important contributors of fecal contaminants in surface waters, and some gulls have even been found to carry a drug-resistant strain of E. coli. With so many potential sources of E. coli contamination, it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint a specific source or cause.


DWQ’s statewide monitoring program samples for a wide range of possible contaminants, including E. coli, to determine if waters in the state are meeting water-quality standards. Water-quality data collected by DWQ is used to identify emerging problems, determine whether pollution-control programs are working, and help direct resources and pollution-control efforts to the areas where they are most needed.

DEQ scientists monitor Utah waters to ensure they meet water-quality standards

E. coli is a good indicator of the presence of fecal contamination, and possible disease-causing bacteria or viruses in water. Health officials use the presence of E. coli to determine if the public needs to be notified of a health risk, since the pathogens that accompany fecal contamination can also make the water unsafe for people.

While it would be ideal to collect E. coli samples on all Utah waters on a weekly basis, limited resources means DWQ must take a tiered approach to monitoring. Each year, DWQ works with local health departments to prioritize highly recreated water bodies across Utah. Utah’s high-priority recreation lakes and reservoirs are sampled monthly during the May-through- October recreation season. Other lakes, rivers, and streams are sampled on a targeted, six-year, rotating-basin schedule. While this six-year rotation schedule is helpful for assessment purposes, it does not provide ongoing protection for public health at less-frequented areas.

Health Advisories

DWQ alerts local health departments if monthly sampling indicates elevated concentrations of E. coli in waters within their jurisdiction. Water-quality scientists take a second sample as soon as possible after the first sample, and if the test results exceed the numeric criteria established for that waterbody, the local health department and DWQ may jointly issue a health advisory. The site is then monitored on a regular basis during the advisory. The advisory remains in place until five consecutive samples are below the water-quality criteria for the site.

Sign warning about E. coli contamination

Risk of Exposure to E. coli 

While most samples collected by DWQ don’t indicate a high risk of illness from exposure to E. coli, recreators should still assume all surface waters contain some E. coli or fecal contamination. People can protect themselves by not swallowing the water and washing their hands before touching their mouth or eyes. The single most important way to prevent person-to-person spread of E. coli is through thorough hand washing.

The E. coli O157:H7 strain responsible for serious illness is generally spread through contaminated meats and vegetables or direct contact with infected people and animals. However, this harmful strain may also be present in lakes and streams, and waterborne transmission is still possible through swimming and ingestion of contaminated water, so caution is advised.

Because fish are not warm-blooded, E. coli cannot live in the fillets, but the guts and water covering the fish could contain E. coli. Anglers should wash and cook the fish, and wash their hands after handling fish and lake water to reduce their risk.

Data-Informed Solutions

If problems are discovered through routine testing, additional monitoring can help water-quality scientists identify the sources of the contamination. Since E. coli can come from many different points-of-origin and can be spread throughout a watershed, pinpointing the source(s) of contamination can be a difficult task. Once the sources are known, field investigations can assist scientists and managers in identifying problem areas and developing strategies to reduce pollution.

Regular testing helps identify areas with elevated levels of E. coli and protects the public from inadvertent exposure to high concentrations of disease-causing organisms. But monitoring alone isn’t the solution. Reducing or eliminating the sources of contamination will diminish the likelihood of E. coli and other pathogens making their way into Utah waters.

People should enjoy Utah’s beautiful lakes and streams but always be mindful of the possibility of E. coli in the water and take appropriate precautions.


Wondering if your favorite beach or pond is under a health advisory? Visit our advisories page for up-to-date information on current and past advisories. Check out our webpages to learn more about our E. coli monitoring program, targeted monitoring schedule, and 2017 Statewide E. coli Monitoring Plan.

This entry was originally published on July 31st, 2017, updated on July 31st, 2017, and posted in news.

DEQ’s Voluntary Cleanup Program: A Primer in Customer Service

By Joe Katz

Voluntary Cleanup Program middle school site

Cleanup of the ditch at the Sunset Ridge Middle School site

Someone once told me “A good project is never finished.” It seems like many environmental cleanup projects support this statement, even some you think are well in the rearview mirror. This is the story of one of them.

The Jordan School District built the Sunset Ridge Middle School in 2005. This was the height of the real estate bubble, and development on the southwest side of the Salt Lake Valley, especially around Highway 111, was exploding. Anticipating continued growth in the area, the District also bought a 50-acre field north of the middle school intending to develop a high school within a decade. The middle school opened, teachers taught, students learned. Everything seemed normal and unremarkable. Until…

All around the school, development was transforming the area’s old dry farms into strip malls, business parks, and subdivisions. As an environmental corollary to Murphy’s Law states, whenever you put a shovel in the ground, you will invariably find an unexpected surprise. Just after the school was finished, some of the shovels from the various developments in the area started uncovering a surprise that had been buried and forgotten since the 1940’s.

Early on, no one knew that the batches of distinctly out-of-place, vivid red-orange soil being found below the surface of these old fields were related, but as the development work continued and historical research began, a clear picture began to form. The Bingham-Magna Ditch, or BMD for short, was a 17-mile long canal that had once snaked its way from Copperton to Magna. Used by a predecessor to Kennecott, the BMD transported water for mining activities. As mine waters often are, the water carried by the BMD was impacted by metals – particularly arsenic, in this case. This arsenic was covered over when the BMD was taken out of service and filled back in. Unfortunately for the District, around 3,300 feet of the BMD cut right up the east side of the middle-school property (mostly capped under the brand new parking lot) and continued north and east right through the high school property.

Voluntary Cleanup Program helps developers clean up the Bingham-Magna Ditch

Bingham-Magna Ditch during cleanup

In 2006, the District enrolled the middle school and high school properties into the Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCP). The VCP allows eligible applicants to clean up property with DEQ oversight.  During the summer of 2007, Kennecott hired a contractor and began cleanup of the District’s property. A Certificate of Completion (COC) was issued in 2008. And that was that, until this January, almost a decade after the original cleanup, when the District decided to sell 40 acres of the high-school property to a residential development company.

Property transactions are not unusual for successful VCP projects. The VCP is a tool intended to help contaminated properties return to beneficial and highest use. However, in this case, there was a problem with the COC, and the developer asked for DEQ’s help to resolve the issue.

Under the VCP, cleanups are based on the proposed future land use.  In this case, residential land-use standards were used to ensure protectiveness for school children.  However, the COC said nothing about residential use; it only mentioned use of the property for “public schools.” This ambiguity gave the developer pause, not knowing if future residential use would invalidate the COC. Since a closing date had been set, a deadline was also a concern. How we helped the developer address these concerns highlights some important aspects of customer service that I would like to share.

Voluntary Cleanup Program high school site

Cleanup of the high school site

We prepared

We met internally and discussed the site and our initial understanding of the problem. In fact, we even reviewed the cleanup data to be sure we were comfortable with future residential use at the site. This helped us pencil out initial solutions we could offer.

We met

Once we were aware of the problem, we offered to meet with the developer’s team. We placed their team and ours in the same space so everyone heard the same discussion and was able to discuss ideas in real time. This helped immensely to get everyone on the same page quickly, to temper expectations about time frames, costs, limitations, etc., and to discuss solutions.

We listened

We took the time to understand the problem and the constraints the developer was raising. We did not have a preconceived response; we wanted to evaluate the problem. Listening is a customer-focused approach that goes a long way to both getting to the core of a problem and preventing adversarial interactions.

We discussed solutions

After discussing the problem and its nuances, two workable solutions became apparent. The first option was to draft a letter clarifying the land use presented in the COC. The second, slower option was to amend the COC to allow residential uses. We then let the developer choose which solution worked best for them. Obviously, allowing the regulated party to choose the outcomes is not always possible. When it is, it is advantageous because that party has ownership of the outcome, rather than just half-heartedly following an imposed directive.

We explained

The old adage “the customer is always right” may be the standard in the private commercial world, but it does not work in the regulatory one. Consider if the cleanup had not been residentially protective, homes were built on the site, and people started experiencing health effects down the line. Putting aside the damage to DEQ for not protecting public health, but what kind of lawsuits, damages, and other liabilities would the developer now face? Is that customer service? Customer service is not giving the customer what they want because they ask for it. Customer service is absolutely taking the time to explain the reasoning for the agency’s position.

Based on our discussions, the developer opted for the quicker of the two solutions: a clarification letter. In the end, DEQ’s Division of Environmental Response and Remediation (DERR) decided that amending the COC was the better long-term solution. This change of direction brings me to my last thought.

We communicated

Once a week, I updated the developer’s team, even if that update was simply, “We are still working on it.” Once I knew about the change of direction, I called the developer immediately. I thought I would be in for an earful since, after weeks of waiting already, amending the COC would push us beyond the developer’s closing date.  Because our regular communication had shown DEQ was making a good-faith effort to resolve the issue, our conversation was amicable, and the property transaction was able to proceed while the amended COC was being finalized.

While the techniques above were helpful ways to provide good customer service for this project and would be applicable to most projects, every situation is different. I think at the heart of good customer service is asking one question:  if I were the customer coming to DEQ for this issue, how would I want to be treated? Using this answer to guide how you interact with your customers and remembering that your customers are not just the regulated community (they could be your coworkers and colleagues, other regulators, and the public), ensures professional, fair, and responsive treatment–something we strive for every day at DEQ.

Want to learn more about our Voluntary Cleanup Program? Check out our bi-annual Utah Brownfields Connection newsletter for more cleanup success stories and an inside look at how we protect public health and the environment by cleaning up chemically contaminated areas in the state.

I am a project manager in the Voluntary Cleanup Program. I have a chemistry degree from the University of Utah (yes, questioning my sanity for sticking with the subject beyond organic chemistry is completely normal. Believe me, I questioned my own sanity before every final exam). I am recently married and enjoy spending time with my wife (I guess if I did not, being married might be a little more complicated). Outside of work, I like learning, travel, and anything outdoors, especially hiking and landscape and wildlife photography.










This entry was originally published on July 25th, 2017, updated on July 25th, 2017, and posted in news.

Planning, Preparation Help DEQ Keep Tabs on HABs

By Suzan Tahir

Utah Lake HAB

Utah Lake algal bloom 2017

Some of you might have heard about harmful algal blooms (HABs), and some of you might not…yet. But HABs are happening nationwide, mostly in the warm summer months.

As you know, we have trillions of bacteria (good bacteria and bad bacteria) living in our gut (gastrointestinal tract), and they coexist until something upsets the balance, like bad milk. We can use the same simple analogy for HAB events. Cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) are simple organisms that live in the sea and freshwater bodies. Good and bad cyanobacteria live in a balance with other aquatic organisms and do not over-compete until something disturbs their balance, such as:

  • Lots of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus)
  • Calm and stagnant water column conditions
  • Warm water-column temperatures

That is when a small percentage of the “bad” cyanobacteria grow out of control, creating green scum on the water and sometimes producing toxins that can harm people and their pets. The question now becomes: Do we have them here in Utah? Sadly, yes! Utah Lake and Scofield Reservoir are two of the larger waterbodies that experienced HAB events in 2016, and smaller lakes, ponds, and streams experienced blooms as well.

How can we be more prepared and aware?

Over the past few years, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)’s Division of Water Quality (DWQ) has been very proactive in finding ways to forecast and identify HAB events. Just like the air-quality monitoring network, DWQ’s early HAB forecasting approach combines real-time monitoring with meteorological data and sample analysis. How? We use a two-prong approach:

  • Collection of phytoplankton samples and cyanotoxin testing for HABs
  • Real-time ambient water-quality forecast for HABs using sondes (measuring devices)

DWQ currently uses a CB-450 Data Buoy system (water-quality monitoring network) for early HAB forecasting in Utah Lake, Scofield Reservoir, and Deer Creek Reservoir.

HABs forecasting system

Utah HAB Network

Click on image to go to real time data on the Utah HAB Network

The data buoy system in Utah Lake is deployed at three different sites around the lake. DWQ selected these locations using the best available information to identify areas with the greatest potential for HABs. Because wind plays a very important role in the movement of blooms around Utah Lake, these sites are distributed along the east side of the lake to capture that movement.

Cyanobacteria growth and bloom production are dependent upon a number of factors, from temperature to nutrient levels in the water. The DWQ HAB Network is equipped with sensors that measure a range of water-quality parameters, including turbidity, dissolved oxygen, pH, specific conductivity, water temperature, chlorophyll a, and phycocyanin. In combination, these parameters indicate and identify changes in cyanobacteria production and can act as an “early warning system” for blooms. The HAB Network streams this information every 15 minutes, providing us with real-time, ambient water-quality data.

Just like a weather forecast, when this early-HAB forecasting system is coupled with satellite imagery and field observations, it helps us identify where the HAB is, how big it is, and where it’s headed.

HABs information and education

However, conducting good science is not our only goal. We are here for you! Serving the public by providing exceptional service is one of our core values. DWQ works hard to protect and educate the public about HABs.

Because of its proximity to the Wasatch Front, Utah Lake may be one of the most frequently used waterbodies for recreational activities such as fishing, boating, water skiing, and swimming. Other lakes and reservoirs around the state are also popular spots for water-based fun. As we saw last summer, some of these places can also experience algal blooms.

We want people to be aware and cautious if the waterbody they use for their recreational activities looks too green, or looks and smells different. It is important to note that not all green areas have harmful algal blooms. The Utah Department of Health has compiled a photo gallery to help you identify possible HABs, but if you’re in doubt, it is better to be cautious and avoid such areas for your own safety. Be sure to obey posted advisories in areas that have tested high for cyanobacteria concentration or toxins.

DEQ’s HABs webpage provides a wealth of important information, including updates on recent HABs events, an FAQ sheet, and answers to your questions about the health effects of HABs, how to avoid exposure, and what to do if you are exposed or suspect a bloom.

HABs collaboration

Sampling for HABs in Utah Lake

Sampling Utah Lake

One of our primary field efforts is to encourage, initiate, and maintain collaborations and coordination with other agencies and organizations. We work together on HABs response and communications with a variety of state and local agencies to make sure anyone who might be affected by a bloom — whether it’s the boater recreating on a lake or the rancher delivering water to his cattle — has accurate, up-to-date information.

We are also teaming with other scientific groups to gather information. These kinds of collaborations eliminate duplication of efforts and result in better science. In late June 2017, DWQ initiated a collaborative effort with Associate Professor Zachary Aanderud and members of his laboratory at Brigham Young University (BYU). Dr. Aanderud’s team volunteered to monitor the three CB-450 Data Buoy sites on DWQ’s behalf, collecting the following samples on weekly basis to confirm the data we’re receiving from the buoy reflects actual conditions for:

Limited resources make it difficult for DWQ to collect samples more frequently than our scheduled once-a month sampling, even during a bloom. The BYU team’s work enhances and supplements DWQ’s sampling to ensure that we have the most comprehensive data possible.

Data buoys are part of the Utah Lake HABs Network

One of three data buoys in Utah Lake

HABs and you

We work hard to identify HABs to protect you, your family, and your animals from the adverse health effect of these blooms. But we can’t be everywhere, so we can always use your help! Call us if you suspect a bloom, and when in doubt, avoid any contact with water and scums that appear to experiencing an algal bloom. We want you to have a safe and fun summer recreating on our beautiful lakes and streams!

If you suspect a harmful algal bloom, please call the 24-hour DEQ Spill Line at 801-536-4123. If you believe you’re experiencing symptoms form exposure, contact the Utah Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222. Pet owners concerned about their animals should contact their veterinarian. Visit for updates, advisories, and information.

Suzan Tahir

In 2003, I received my Bachelor of Science in Environmental Engineering degree from Middle East Technical University (Ankara, Turkey). In 2007, I received my Master of Science degree from Bradley University, Illinois. In 2008, I moved to Utah and have been with DEQ/DWQ for almost seven years now. Currently, I am working towards my PhD degree at Utah State University. If I do not travel and drive for my work, I normally like to drive and take trips to enjoy nature, cultures, cities, and wilderness. I also have a very deep passion for hiking, white water rafting, rock climbing, backpacking, scuba diving, Huskies, and Akitas. I was born and raised in Bulgaria, have lived in different countries, and currently live in Salt Lake City. I love my job a lot, because we are like a huge family helping and supporting each other and our communities!

This entry was originally published on July 17th, 2017 and posted in news.

HeatRisk Initiative Helps You Keep Your Cool When Temps Rise

By Royal Delegge, 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.

HeatRisk Map

Click on map for a larger view

Heat is responsible for more deaths in the United States annually than any other weather phenomenon. Given this fact, and the prediction of more heat events (on average) in the future, people need to be aware of the dangers associated with extreme heat and be prepared to take steps to protect themselves and to promote community safety and health during heat events.

That’s why the National Weather Service (NWS) has developed a tool called the HeatRisk forecast to help individuals address heat risks and prepare for heat waves. The forecast provides a quick view of the heat-risk potential over the upcoming seven days. The heat risk is portrayed in a numeric and color scale similar to the Air Quality Index. The forecast provides a daily value that indicates the approximate level of heat risk for any location along with a list of those groups most at risk. The HeatRisk initiative is being tested experimentally in California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona over the next year.

Individuals can take specific actions that will help to mitigate the effects of heat and lower the risk of heat stress or even heat stroke:

  • Drink plenty of water, even if you do not feel thirsty. In a very dry climate such as Utah’s, individuals may not always recognize that they are becoming dehydrated.
  • Take care to never leave children or pets alone in closed vehicles, even for a few minutes.
  • Stay indoors, in cooler conditions, as much as possible and limit exposure to the sun.
  • Check on family, friends, and neighbors who do not have air conditioning and who spend much of their time alone to assure that they are keeping safe.
  • Go to a cooling center or shelter if you lack access to a cool environment or lose power during periods of extreme heat.

If you or your pets spend time outdoors during high heat, take the following precautions:

  • Check on your pets frequently to ensure that they are not suffering from the heat.
  • Dress in loose-fitting, lightweight, and light-colored clothes that cover as much skin as possible. Avoid dark colors because they absorb more of the sun’s energy.
  • Protect your face and head by wearing sunblock and a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Postpone outdoor games and activities until cooler periods of the day.
  • Avoid strenuous work during the warmest part of the day if you work outside. Use a buddy system to monitor coworkers when working in extreme heat and take frequent breaks.

Certain groups are more susceptible to heat effects and need closer attention than the rest of the population:

  • Older adults
  • Infants and young children
  • People with chronic heart or lung problems
  • People with disabilities
  • Overweight persons
  • Those who work outdoors or in hot settings
  • Users of some medications, especially those taken for mental disorders, movement disorders, allergies, depression, and heart or circulatory problems
  • People who are socially isolated and may not know when or how to cool off – or when to call for help

Keep your summer safe and enjoyable by following these precautions and checking the HeatRisk forecast for further information during high-heat periods.

Prepare for upcoming heat events and protect heat-sensitive individuals by visiting the HeatRisk webpage for continuously available heat-risk guidance for your area. Check out the NWS- Salt Lake office’s website for official heat warnings, watches, or advisories. If you live in Salt Lake County and need to find a place to cool off, check out the county surveyor’s online tool get a list of cooling centers near you.

I have served as Environmental Health Director for the Salt Lake County Health Department since August 1999. Previously, I served as Director of Environmental Health for the Winnebago County Health Department in Rockford, Illinois and before that held various positions at the DuPage County Health Department in the Chicago metropolitan area. I have also worked for more than six years as an Adjunct Professor of Public Health teaching courses in the School of Nursing and Health Sciences’ Master of Public Health program at Westminster College in Salt Lake City. I currently serve on the Boards of the Utah Climate Action Network, Wasatch Clean Air Network and am the current Chair of the Board of Trustees and CEO for the Utah Clean Cities Coalition and also Chair of the Utah Food Safety Committee for public health.


This entry was originally published on July 10th, 2017 and posted in news.

Breathtaking Fireworks Can Really Take Your Breath Away

By DEQ Communications Office

Fireworks are beautiful, but they can harm air quality.

Fireworks are beautiful, but they can harm air quality. Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons Bring Back Words

For many people, the Fourth of July wouldn’t BE the Fourth of July without fireworks. But these pyrotechnic displays also produce high concentrations of smoke and particulates (PM) that can harm our air quality and pose a risk to individuals who are sensitive to particulate pollution. And professional displays aren’t the only source of PM pollution — smaller gatherings of neighbors or families lighting fireworks can also contribute to a decrease in an area’s short-term air quality and pose particular health risks to those living nearby.


Fireworks smoke is largely composed of two types of particulate matter: course particulates (PM10) and fine particulates (PM2.5). Short-term exposure to fine particle pollution can pose health concerns, particularly for children, older adults, and those with respiratory conditions. This smoke can aggravate lung disease, cause asthma attacks and acute bronchitis, and may also increase susceptibility to respiratory infections. In people with heart disease, short-term exposures have been linked to heart attacks and arrhythmias.

Particulates aren’t the only pollutants linked to fireworks. From the sulfur and potassium in the gunpowder that powers them to the heavy metals that provide the explosions of color, fireworks contain a potent blend of toxic compounds. Although perchlorate, an oxidizer that fuels the reaction, tends to dissipate during combustion, remnants can still be found on the soil and water after fireworks shows. Heavy metals supply the colors we associate with fireworks shows: barium for glistening greens, lithium and strontium compounds for bursts of red, copper for flashes of blue, and aluminum for dazzling white. These metals can be inhaled or make their way into the water and soil. While one fireworks display is unlikely to cause lasting health effects, repeated exposure can be problematic.

Air-monitoring data shows a massive spike in PM2.5 levels from July 4 fireworks.

Air-monitoring data shows a massive spike in PM2.5 levels from July 4 fireworks. Click on chart for a larger view.

Division of Air Quality (DAQ) monitors consistently show extremely high short-term concentrations of PM10 and PM2.5 associated with fireworks. In fact, Ogden City’s worst air day doesn’t occur in the winter — it happens on July 4, when particulate concentrations can jump to 20 times higher than normal. These readings are in line with research on the impacts fireworks have on air quality nationwide. A 2015 study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) quantified the spike in fine particulate matter on July 4 using observations from 315 U.S. air-quality monitoring sites over a 14-year period. The research showed that the average concentrations of particulates over the 24-hour period beginning at 8 p.m. on July 4 were 42 percent greater than on the days before and after the holiday.

While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allow states to classify air-quality exceedances from fireworks as exceptional events for  regulatory reporting purposes, high particulate levels still impact health over the short-term. These health impacts increase if elevated ozone levels or wildfire smoke are also present.

DAQ recommends that individuals affected by fine particulate pollution avoid fireworks displays or view them from a safe distance. Those who are particularly sensitive may want to stay indoors, especially during the evening, and close the windows so that indoor air is not affected.


This summer, as in previous summers, fireworks pose an additional threat to air quality: wildfires. Wildfire smoke is composed of a complex mixture of gases, fine particles, and water vapor that form when organic matter burns. Particulates from smoke are a mixture of solid particles—pieces of wood and other burning solids—and liquid droplets. As with fireworks smoke, the biggest health threat from wildfire smoke comes from fine particles.

Tinder-dry conditions across Utah mean one errant spark from an aerial or a fountain could set acres of wildlands on fire. Governor Herbert has issued personal firework bans or restrictions for unincorporated areas of the state, and many communities have followed suit.

We want everybody to have a safe and healthy Fourth of July. Consider alternative ways to celebrate the holidays with your family and friends and be mindful of the impacts fireworks have on the air we all breathe.

We provide hourly air-quality monitoring, a three-day action forecast, and health forecast on our website and our UtahAir app, available for free for Apple and Android mobile devices. For up-to-date information on the air-quality impacts from wildfires, visit Utah Fire Info or the NOAA website for real-time forecasts on the emissions and smoke transport from wildfires in Utah and neighboring states.




This entry was originally published on July 3rd, 2017 and posted in news.