Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News
View of the Salt Lake Valley from Little Cottonwood Canyon is obscured by smog Wednesday prompting a red air-quality alert.

Atop the roof the of Primary Children's Medical Center, the gray and grainy air of Salt Lake City in the background Wednesday, the Utah Clean Air Alliance spoke plainly about the importance of being blunt when it comes to air pollution.

It's not haze, they said, but pollution. And residents can help clean it up so people — particularly children — don't suffer adverse health consequences.

Pollution increases the risk of diseases that can kill, including heart disease, lung disease, cancer and sudden infant death, they said during a news conference to announce a plan to get residents and media involved in a solution.

They want weather forecasters and the media to provide "consistent and practical information" about air quality, as well as tips for what people can do. Just as people watch the temperature forecasts, they want them to routinely be aware of PM2.5 level — a measure of small particulate matter in the air — so they can adjust what they do, said Dr. Courtney

Henley, anesthesiologist and a member of UCAA and Utah Moms for Clean Air.

Half of the pollution, they said, comes from car exhaust.

When the PM2.5 level is 10 or lower, it's "safe." At 20, it's "Whoa!" and people need to curb fuel consumption, not idle in the car, avoid strenuous outdoor activity and keep kids inside. A level of 35 or higher they classify as "Yikes!" That's hazardous, they said.

Henley that 1.7 million people on the Wasatch Front not idling and taking other steps could positively impact the environment.

Highway signs will carry the message when air quality is poor to remind people to limit driving and change their driving habits to avoid contributing to pollution.

Dr. Michelle Hofmann, a physician at Primary, noted that medical science in the last decade has greatly increased understanding that low levels of particulate matter are not benign, as was once thought. And children, whose lungs are developing, are especially vulnerable. They breathe faster and are outdoors more. They suck more of the harm in, where the cumulative effect impacts lung function and development.

Visits to pediatricians and school absenteeism correlate to air pollution levels, Hofmann said.

She believes pollution likely contributes to rising asthma rates and premature births. Diesel exhaust, which contributes to PM2.5, is a known carcinogen.

There are a number of partners in the pollution-reducing efforts. And some are taking concrete action. For instance, school bus drivers are not idling while they wait for children.

"The mission of the Utah Clean Air Alliance is to protect the right we all share to breathe clean air," she said.

Information on steps to curb pollution is online at airquality.utah.gov.

E-mail: lois@desnews.com