May heat drives season's first ozone alert for Wasatch Front

Published: Tuesday, May 15 2012 1:41 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Temperatures anticipated to inch toward the 90s Tuesday prompted Utah air quality regulators to issue the summer season's first ozone alert for the Wasatch Front, as well as Tooele, Washington and Box Elder counties.

The "yellow" alert means ozone levels are building and residents should take steps to curb activities that could aggravate the situation.

“We are seeing moderately high pollution levels, which is a reminder that everyone needs to be mindful that summer pollution has arrived,” said Bryce Bird, director of the Division of Air Quality.

The summer ozone alert program generally begins in June and runs through September when hot temperatures combine with pollutants to create smoggy conditions. Those conditions can threaten health by causing lung damage or other respiratory complications.

Donna Kemp Spangler, Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman, said it is not necessarily uncommon to have an alert at this time in the season, but it may feel especially early given last year's wet weather pattern.

"It was unusually wet last year and we're starting to pick up those warmer temperatures," she said. "Hopefully, this is not a foreshadow of a difficult summer with poor air quality."

Scientists at Utah's Air Monitoring Center say ways to reduce ozone include limiting driving, avoiding idling in cars or mowing the lawn during the middle of the day.

A three-day forecast is available at airquality.utah.gov. “Green” means conditions are good and people are encouraged to make clean air choices to keep pollution levels low. “Yellow” means the pollution is building and people are encouraged to take proactive steps. “Red” means pollution levels are critically high and potentially unhealthy.

State air quality regulators were recently lauded by Gov. Gary Herbert after the Environmental Protection Agency said Utah had successfully reduced ozone for a three-year period to come into compliance with national standards along the Wasatch Front.

In tandem with the Utah Department of Transportation, the division has launched a public education campaign with highway signage to warn that conditions are approaching unhealthy levels and driving should be curtailed. On "red" days, motorists are encouraged to refrain from driving at all if possible.

Spangler said Utahns are being encouraged to visit ucair.utah.gov and pledge to do something to improve air quality.

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com Twitter: amyjoi16

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