Although Salt Lake City is famous for its beautiful mountain vistas, winter brings an unpleasant atmospheric phenomenon known as the inversion. Due to the valley’s situation along the Wasatch front, snow forming on the ground cools the polluted air around our cities, which gets trapped under a lid of warmer atmospheric air.
These dreaded winter inversions seem to form a bowl of soupy smog, which has often earned us the flag for worst air quality across the country. Here are some measures you can take to mitigate the polluting effects of inversions.
A 2018 report concluded that high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters significantly reduce the presence of fine particulate matter inside our homes. Indoor PM 2.5 particulates were cut down by 55%, while overall incoming pollution was reduced by 23%.
Keep in mind that HEPA filters can be more expensive; you’ll need to weigh the benefits versus the costs. If most people in the home spend time in a single room, for example, a single HEPA filter can be well worth the upfront expense.
Even if you don’t choose to upgrade your filters, your existing HVAC system plays a significant part in determining your indoor air quality. Your duct filters screen out many harmful pollutants, but over time the accumulated dust, soot, and other particles can clog your filters. This lessens the overall air exchange rate to your home and leads to worsening indoor air quality as the outside air finds other, unfiltered ways to get inside.
Every bit of preparation counts when you’re in areas such as Draper or Sandy, which face the Utah inversions most; have professional duct cleaning done well before the visibility starts to go down.
No smoke indoors
Smoke from tobacco products such as cigarettes is a trigger for asthma and increases the risk of developing heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic respiratory disease. Indoor smoking is also a fire hazard, and must never be permitted within your home. But secondhand smoke should be avoided as well; according to the EPA, there’s no level of exposure to secondhand smoke, which can be considered risk-free.
Note that under Utah law, residents may file a nuisance action for injunctive relief and/or damages over any secondhand smoke drifting into their units. Try talking to any individuals whose secondhand smoke is drifting inside your home, or else report the matter to your community or property management.
Reduce energy consumption and emissions
It takes a committed and concerted effort to manage our air quality during winter inversions. Every time you could combine trips using a carpool or ride-sharing service, or take public transportation instead of driving, means fewer cars and emissions on the road. Lowering your electrical consumption in the home also reduces the demand for coal used to generate much of our electricity. And cutting down on your burning of materials is another way to help a collective effort; reduced use of fireplaces is a good example of how you can help.
Reduce time outdoors
During the worst of our inversions, everyone should stay indoors as much as possible. For lovers of our great outdoors, this means you need to get your fitness fix from gyms and other indoor facilities, as the heavy breathing associated with exercise means you’ll risk a much greater intake of pollutants if you go out. And if you absolutely must head outside, combine all your errands to accomplish them in one go, and always wear a face mask.
With these measures, you can do your part to help clean up our air and reduce your long-term health risks as you go about your everyday business.