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Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
Looking north from Provo, pollution blankets Utah County. Wednesday was the fourth straight day of red alerts.

PROVO — Amy Barker's muscles felt great Monday during her 10-mile training run, but she found herself struggling for breath.

When she was done, she coughed and wheezed the rest of the night.

The Lehi mother is in great shape. She plans to run a half-marathon early next month. But an inversion trapping air pollution in Utah Valley forced Barker to run on the treadmill inside her home on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"The pollution was super, super bad on Monday," Barker said. "It was like me smoking a half a pack of cigarettes. I'm not OK with that. All I want to do is run and play with my kids in our front yard, but we're prisoners in our own home."

Wednesday was the fourth straight day of red alerts issued by the Utah Division of Air Quality, a losing streak of sorts that is expected to continue today and Friday before clearing out on the weekend.

Two storms could bring the winds needed to scrub out the murky, polluted air that made the snow on the Wasatch Mountains appear dingy and gray on Wednesday.

The red alerts mean the air is unhealthy for sensitive groups. Those with respiratory or heart disease should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors. The alerts also call for Utah residents to limit driving and use public transit and carpools. Wood burning is prohibited.

Barker chose not to go shopping Wednesday so she wouldn't add to the pollution trapped in the valley, and she protected one of her two young sons from it by refusing his request to take a walk.

"It's really frustrating for me as a mother to think this whole inversion is trapping all the pollution from the cars that are driving up and down the street," she said.

Barker is trying to organize a Utah County chapter of Utah Moms for Clean Air, which held a press conference Wednesday in Salt Lake City to encourage Utahns to take responsibility for the pollution they cause.

The week's inversion is a Utah classic.

"This is the same sort of inversion we get all the time," Brigham Young University professor Arden Pope said. "The weather conditions that result in the worst inversions are snow on the ground, relatively cold air and a high pressure system."

Inversions end in one of two ways.

"The easiest way, is to have winds ahead of a storm front," said Bob Dalley, manager of the Division of Air Quality's air monitoring center. "The other is warm air. With snow cover on ground, that's not happening."

A weak storm system is expected Friday.

"Hopefully the air will start to move around Friday," Dalley said. "It won't eliminate the inversion, but it might weaken it a little and we might be able to back off to a yellow alert. By Sunday, we'll be able to clean it out if the storm doesn't split. The one coming in now has split, and it's going south."

Air quality conditions in Utah County are available throughout the day at www.cleanair.utah.gov. The Web site includes a gauge of PM2.5 levels. Anything above 35 is considered dangerous for sensitive groups.

Levels this week have been, on average, in the mid-40s. The level dropped Wednesday to about 35, Pope said.

More information, including updated wood-burn conditions, is available at 1-800-228-5434.

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