Inversion season is upon us. The winters in Salt Lake are a mixture of snow flurries, the occasional sunny sky and air pollution,so thick you can smell it. While awareness for our air quality has improved over the years, Utah is still ranked the 6th worst air in the nation, and received an F grade in both ozone and particle pollution from the American Lung Association.
Some people deal with winter inversion by wearing respiration masks, and avoiding elongated periods of time outside, but all of us should be doing our part to improve Utah’s air quality. So whether its a hefty lifestyle change or a small decision, here are ten ways you can help improve our air.
- Utilize Public Transportation
This is the most commonly advertised solution to our air pollution, and that’s because car emissions account for 30-50% of Utah’s air pollution. Salt Lake’s impressive transportation system is easy to navigate and inexpensive in comparison to personal car travel. You may even find it is faster than driving, especially in high traffic times. You can get started by using a new app called Transit. Track bus schedules, find a scooter or uber near you, plan your route and track streetcars in real time. Using public transit is easier than ever and your lungs will thank for it.
2. Avoid Wood Burning Fires
Having a bonfire in the snow may seem fun and harmless, but during inversion season they are a definite no go. Wood burning is the second largest non-industrial contributor to Utah’s air pollution, one study from a Utah Air Quality Board member found that burning wood for one hour released as much PM2.5 emissions as driving a car 500+ miles. Experts say to avoid wood burning fires as early as October until March, and should even be used sparingly in the summer. And if you absolutely must light that fireplace or gather around the firepit, use a gas-fired pit instead. Gas based fires don’t emit the same particles into the air and are better for air quality.
3. Stop Idling
When you do decide to drive your car, be conscious of the unnecessary idling that produces harmful emissions. Making small decisions to turn off your car in drive-thrus or while you’re waiting for a friend can have a reasonable impact on our air. Not only is idling ethically wrong, it’s also punishable by law. The Idle Free Ordinance was introduced in 2011 and limits idle time to 2 minutes. Fines for idling start at $15 and can increase to $150.
4. Go Zero Waste
Being mindful of your waste has huge implications for energy usage, something that is closely connected to air quality. You don’t have to go completely zero waste to improve our air, but buying products and smartly disposing of them are helpful actions. Recycling is a good example of this, according to the EPA recycling an aluminum can save 95% of the energy needed to create a new one, paper saves 60% and glass saves 33%. Product manufacturers produce large amounts of air pollutants which certainly denigrates air quality.
5. Eat Local
Cutting out industrial foods that produce emissions in production and require gas for travel is a smart way to living healthier, and breathing happier. Visiting your local farmers market can provide you with grass-fed, organic meats and locally grown fruits and veggies!
6. Get More House Plants
Furnishing your home with more plants not only improves the appearance of the space, it can also improve indoor air quality (which can sometimes be worse than outdoor air). Certain plants like aloe, lavender, spider plants, and bamboo palms are known to reduce air pollution.
7. Buy air-friendly products
Even things as small as hairspray and air fresheners have an effect on air pollution. Products like dry cleaning products, paint, varnishes and carpet cleaner contribute to the fine particles that threaten our environment and our lungs. Keep air quality in mind when making purchases and find alternatives to bad products with the EPA’s “Safer Choice” guide. https://www.epa.gov/saferchoice
8. Lead by Example
Making a change to Utah’s air won’t be easy, and it certainly won’t be overnight. Lasting adjustments are critical to the future of our air and our health. Educating those around you is vital to the cause, and so is teaching the younger generations how to not make the same mistakes. By showing Utah youth how to live healthier, air-friendly lifestyles we can ensure a better future and cleaner air.
9. Support Clean Air Legislation
Organizations like HEAL Utah and UCAIR are constantly working with Utah legislators on resolutions to poor air quality. The 2019 legislative session is already seeing constructive legislation tackling emissions and air pollutants. Tier 3 is one of the most crucial changes seen on the hill. EPA’s new standard on gasoline reduces its sulfur composition by 30%, and when combined with Tier 3 vehicle emissions standards will reduce harmful gas emissions by 80%. Other proposals address diesel fuel and freight switches. Learn more here.
10. Stay Informed On Our Air Quality
Knowing the quality of the air at any given time can guide your air-friendly decisions. Red days may encourage you to take the bus or maybe advise you to skip your daily run. The Utahair app utilizes the Utah Division of Air Quality’s alert system to give you daily updates on weather and air conditions. It even provides a three-day forecast to help you plan ahead.
Utah’s smoggy winters may seem like a fact of life, but there are steps we can take to improve our air. Something as small as a change in cleaning products, or as large as lobbying for clean air legislation has impacts on air pollution. Making changes to our lifestyles isn’t easy, but is necessary to create a better future and a clearer sky.