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Here’s how to stay safe when Utah’s air gets smoky

Stay indoors when possible, avoid long trips, and use common sense, experts advise.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Smoke in the Salt Lake Valley, on Monday, July 12, 2021.

The smoke in northern Utah’s air isn’t going anywhere for a few days.

The Utah Division of Air Quality’s forecast predicts the air will remain “unhealthy for sensitive groups” along the Wasatch Front through Wednesday, at least. The band of unhealthy air stretches from Weber and Box Elder counties in the north, through Tooele, Davis and Salt Lake counties, and down to Utah and Carbon counties to the south.

The division’s forecast orders “mandatory action” for Box Elder, Weber, Tooele, Davis, Salt Lake and Utah counties. Such action advises employers to activate trip-reduction programs, and asks individuals to use the state’s TravelWise recommendations — consolidating trips, and using cleaner transportation options (such as walking, cycling or mass transit) where possible. People also are asked to limit emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOC), chemicals in such products as solvents, petroleum fuels, paint thinners and dry-cleaning agents.

The Division of Air Quality advises people with existing heart disease or respiratory problems — which could include asthma, or lung damage from COVID-19 — to stay indoors and cut back on physical activity, particularly outdoors, when the smoke becomes thick.

“Voluntary action” is recommended in Carbon County, the Division of Air Quality’s forecast says — as well as in the counties where the air quality is listed as “moderate”: Cache County to the north; Duchesne and Uintah counties to the east; and Iron and Washington counties in southern Utah.

The National Weather Service also forecasts the smoke will linger through Wednesday, possibly longer. The weather forecast calls for a slight chance of thunderstorms and rain showers Tuesday afternoon and again Wednesday afternoon — but there’s no indication that will be enough to blow the smoke out.

Much of northern Utah’s current pollution problems come from wildfires in western states. On Sunday, the weather service tweeted that two major wildfires — the Bootleg Fire in southwest Oregon, and the Beckwourth Complex in California, north of Lake Tahoe — are the likely smoke producers. Fires in Idaho may also be contributing to Utah’s smoky air, the weather service reported.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency advises that when smoke is in the air, people should follow local air quality reports, run the air conditioner (if you have one) to filter out smoke particles, and don’t do things that make the indoor air dirty — like vacuuming, smoking, or using wood fireplaces or gas stoves. People with medical problems, or children who are sensitive to bad air, should follow doctors’ instructions, and consider leaving the area for awhile.

The most important advice from the EPA: Use common sense. Try not to go outside, or let your kids play outdoors, if it appears smoky.

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