Derek Miller and Kim Frost: Addressing Utah’s summertime ozone will take collective action

It turns out that our air quality is threatened in the summer as much as in the winter.

Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune View of the white hot haze in the valley looking west from the Utah Capitol Wednesday July 1, 2015.

The quality of Utah’s air is something that affects us all and something we can all do something to improve. That is why the Clear the Air Challenge is so important.

The Challenge, a partnership between the Salt Lake Chamber, Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR) and UDOT’s TravelWise program, encourages friendly competition among individuals and businesses to see who can reduce the most emissions and help “clear the air.” Those who participate in the Challenge are encouraged to adjust everyday habits and try alternative modes of transportation as opposed to driving in a car alone, and hopefully create new habits that continue all year long.

In past years, the Challenge was held in February to address wintertime inversion when our air quality is visibly at its worst. However, this year the Challenge was transitioned to July to focus on Utah’s summertime ozone issues, which can be just as harmful although not as visible as winter inversions.

Reducing ozone will improve our health and our environment. Some experts have even described the effect of breathing ozone as a “sunburn on your lungs.” Thankfully, there are plenty of things we as individuals and businesses can do to reduce our emissions and protect our health.

Top of the list this month is participating in the Clear the Air Challenge and using TravelWise strategies, such as carpooling, using public transportation, trip-chaining or walking and biking. Opting to individually make a change and encouraging colleagues to join you will help us reduce emissions and promote cleaner, healthier air.

Since the Challenge started in 2009, participants have helped make a big difference in improving Utah’s air quality, eliminating almost 1.2 million trips, saving more than 17 million miles and reducing their emissions by more than 5,000 tons.

Another way to address our ozone is by allowing employees to work from home on air quality action days. One lesson that came out of the pandemic was that working from home is not only more accessible than we thought, but also good for the environment. Take for example how the state of Utah adopted a new policy for state employees to work remotely on action forecast or red air days. This kind of forward-thinking is necessary if we want to keep our air quality at a breathable level.

Finally, remember that during the summer timing matters. Eliminate as many emissions as you can during the heat of the day and early evening when ozone forms from the reaction of emissions in the air with sunlight and high heat. Limit or eliminate trips during this time period using the TravelWise strategies above, and encourage your employees or co-workers to do the same.

Even small individual actions add up to make a big collective difference as we take proactive steps to reduce emissions every day. It is no secret that Utah’s unique geography makes it especially vulnerable to air pollution issues. While we cannot change our geographic makeup, we certainly can change our habits during the difficult months of the year.

We believe that clean air is essential for the state’s economic prosperity and quality of life. As we all have the power to impact our air quality, we can have a positive impact on our state’s future. By working together, we can make a difference. Sign up for the Clear the Air Challenge today!

Derek Miller

Derek Miller is president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber.

Kim Frost | UCAIR

Kim Frost is executive director of the Utah Clean Air Partnership.