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New air quality monitor in Heber City to offer more precise data, forecasts

 Deer Creek Reservoir, Wasatch County
David Katz
Adobe Stock
Deer Creek Reservoir, Wasatch County

On the heels of a smoggy week in the Heber Valley, thanks to smoke from the Canadian wildfires, residents may want to keep an eye on air quality levels. And a new tool for doing that is on the way.

There are already Purple Air monitors in and around Heber City, which are low-cost devices that allow community members to keep track of what’s in the air they breathe. Now a new air quality monitor coming to town soon could offer more precise measurements.

Bo Call is the air monitoring section manager of the Utah Division of Air Quality. He’s helping to install the new monitor in Heber City, which unlike other monitors, meets federally-approved standards.

“There's a select list of instruments the [Environmental Protection Agency] approves,” Call said. “How that differs from instruments that are not on the list is really in quality of data. Other instruments might be, you know, plus or minus 10% or 20% of what a regulatory-type instrument would be reading.”

More specifically, he said the new air quality monitor can more accurately read levels of particulate, wind, ozone and other factors that impact how much smog is in the air.

He’s working with local government leaders and hopes it will be installed in Heber City in early June but called that an optimistic outlook.

“We still have to do all our due diligence and paperwork and make sure that we can get there,” he said. “And then there's practical issues like getting the power hooked up and getting some equipment in there to drop off our shelter. And all of that takes a little bit of time. I would love to have something there in the next month, month and a half. But I can't guarantee that it will be there, we might run into a snag that's unforeseen at this point.”

He said he’s optimistic because finding a location is usually the hard part, but those in charge of the land have given verbal commitments to see it through.

Earlier this week at the Wasatch Back Economic Summit, Heber City Mayor Heidi Franco said air quality is one of the ways Heber City is “ahead of the curve.” She touted the new monitor as one of several ways the city hopes to protect environmental standards as the population and housing communities expand.

“That’s going to be monitored, and we’ll see if we need emissions [testing] in three years when they do that,” she said. “So, to me, [priorities include] the protection of air quality, water quality [and the] sensitive lands protection.”

In 2021, when she was still a city councilmember, she led the charge to pass an ordinance in support of clean air in 2021. It requires future homes to meet E.P.A. standards and stated the city would find ways to educate people about how they can individually reduce pollution.

Air in the Heber Valley became noticeably the haziest it’s been so far in 2023 during the past week. That’s largely due to southbound winds carrying smoke from fires in Canada.

People with asthma or other respiratory conditions are considered more sensitive to smoky air. Call said the smog that came through the Wasatch Back wasn’t considered highly dangerous, but enough to affect some people.

“So if you were not really sensitive, you probably didn't notice very much, except it looks gunky out there,” he said. “If you were sensitive, then you might have started to feel it. I know some people that were fairly sensitive, and they have felt it over the last few days as this smoke has come down from Canada.”

In recent summers, local and regional wildfires have regularly caused Utah skies to become hazy. Call said daily pollution can just as easily bring unhealthy air quality, especially when many days go by without storms or windy skies.

The Utah Division of Air Quality website displays current air quality measurements as well as forecasts in 12 of Utah’s 29 counties. When the Heber air monitoring station goes live, people can use the site to see Wasatch County’s levels as well.

KPCW will continue to provide updates on the timing of the new station as they become available.

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