Even though we remain in the yellow air quality, we have a mandatory no burn. What we are trying to do is be proactive and tell people that air quality conditions are such that they are just going to deteriorate. —Donna Kemp Spangler
SALT LAKE CITY — With snow on the ground, a high-pressure system perched over the Wasatch Front and frigid cold, conditions have merged to produce the ideal cocktail for the season's first inversion to swoop in.
Even though pollution levels have not reached the federal standard for unhealthy, the Utah Division of Air Quality has instituted burning restrictions for fireplaces and wood-burning stoves and is asking motorists to reduce travel.
Division spokeswoman Donna Kemp Spangler said the early mandatory actions represent this year's first rollout of reforms instituted to the "green, yellow, red" alert system used by the division to advise residents on air quality conditions.
"Even though we remain in the yellow air quality, we have a mandatory no-burn," Spangler said. "What we are trying to do is be proactive and tell people that air quality conditions are such that they are just going to deteriorate."
The division, she added, is especially urging motorists to take action now to reduce contributions to pollution levels of PM2.5, or fine particulate matter, by using mass transit, carpooling and trip chaining.
"We are sending the message out to be mindful that if you can take transit, do so. Drive smarter, avoid cold starts and trip chain," Spangler said.
The Wasatch Front routinely battles ugly inversions each winter when stagnant air gets trapped on the valley floor and pollution levels spike to unhealthy levels.
Persistent inversion periods have led to calls for action by clean air advocates and spawned a flurry of legislation efforts to tackle the problem, which often lands Utah on unenviable lists of having the "dirtiest" air in the country.
An economic development task force identified air quality as the most pressing problem facing the state, and Gov. Gary Herbert this fall announced the formation of a clean air action team to come up with recommendations to curtail pollution.
In his budget proposal unveiled this month, Herbert called for spending $18 million on air quality improvements.