Blog Post

Insight: Utah’s Air Quality: Zeroing in on Health Impacts

By: Laura Summers

Note: The opinions expressed are those of the author alone and do not reflect an institutional position of the Gardner Institute. We hope the opinions shared contribute to the marketplace of ideas and help people as they formulate their own INFORMED DECISIONS™.

The Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute is currently developing a roadmap of possible solutions for the Utah Legislature to consider in addressing Utah’s air quality and changing climate. This process includes evaluating existing research on how poor air quality impacts our environment, economy, and our health.

As the senior health care analyst, I had an opportunity to assist in gathering the health impact research—and the body of Utah-specific studies is both impressive and alarming.

As noted in the research presented above, short-term exposure to fine particulate matter is linked to increased risk for pneumonia, acute lower respiratory infection, preterm birth, and suicide (among many other health risk factors noted in the broader literature). PM2.5 is particulate matter pollution that is 2.5 micrometers and smaller.[i] It exists in Utah’s inversions and wildfire smoke and cannot be filtered through common dust or surgical masks.

Figure 1 shows the effects from Utah’s 2018 fire season on PM2.5 concentrations from July to September 2018 (this includes the Dollar Ridge, Bald Mountain, Pole Creek, and other wildfires). The 24-hour air quality standard for