Forecast: Widespread Haze. Widespread Haze. Widespread Haze. Day, after day, after day, after day. It's not a pretty sight. Or smell, for that matter.
Whether you call it haze, inversion, or smog, Salt Lake City has had an awful year for pollution. Of greatest concern are PM 2.5 particles, which "pose a health concern because they can be inhaled into and accumulate in the respiratory system." (Source) With 42 "Orange" air quality days and 14 "Red" air quality days for particle pollution (source), Salt Lake City lands itself a spot at #5 in the American Lung Association's most polluted cities by short-term particle pollution. Most of the "solution" relies on voluntary action and unenforced mandatory action. People are advised to drive less, use public transportation, and stay indoors on these days. Wood fires are prohibited, and industry is asked to "optimize operating conditions to minimize air pollution."
Air pollution can cause eye and throat irritation; chromosomal damage to fetuses; exacerbate asthma, heart, and lung disease; and causes similar lung damage as smoking. Children and the elderly are at the highest risk, but we all wonder what the air is doing to us.
Numerous state-sponsored studies put most of the blame on vehicles. And the air is noticeably clearer on holidays - when people don't have to drive to work. But there's more to it than that.It turns out that most PM 2.5 is created by a chemical reaction between sunlight and precursor gases in the air, and it's difficult to identify the sources of those gases, though wood burning is thought to contribute more than other sources. (Source) Nevertheless, Utah policymakers seem happy to blame the drivers - who need to be able to move quickly about a spread-out suburban community - and award permits for increased emissions to industrial polluters.
Added to the physical health threats of the air quality is the psychological threat. How depressing is it to look out at this landscape every day? To worry about your health every second that you're outside? To dart from the car to the (hopefully) cleaner indoor air?
Not surprisingly, many people hop in their cars to get away from the smog. With its short days and cold temperatures, winter is depressing enough without being told that it's unhealthy to go outside. And during these inversions, all we crave is some fresh air.
Last weekend, as our Christmas/New Year's trip, we did just that. We packed a picnic cooler with enough food to last us two days, and headed down to Palisades, Colorado. Odie came too, and was thrilled to find a doggy park/trail right by the river. If he'd had his way, we would have stayed there the whole time!
But the real destination was the wine - Palisades has quite a few vineyards and fruit orchards, so we decided to tour wine country in the off-season. We saw this great license plate on the back of a pickup truck at one winery...
And saw some grapes left on the vine...
And a pretty sunset over a vineyard...
On Sunday, we had another nature walk with Odie...
But he was more interested in the frisbee!
On our way out, we saw this cute sculpture, titled "Rusty's Dream."
Palisades and its neighbor, Grand Junction, also suffer from inversions in the wintertime, but are less densely populated and don't have nearly the same levels of pollution as Utah's mountain communities. When we drove back to Salt Lake City, we were saddened to see that the smog hadn't dissipated - it had gotten worse. I haven't lived here long, but I've gathered that the smog is usually at its worst in January. As we look forward to the New Year and the rest of the winter, I hope to see the state take a hard look at the real sources of pollution, stop finger-pointing, and take some real action to clean up the air.