Air quality on the Wasatch Back was a concern during the summer with smoke from wildfires. But air quality this winter isn’t any worse compared to previous years.
Instead of waiting in a lobby for an appointment, many establishments are having clients wait in their cars as a COVID-19 mitigation protocol. During the summer people could turn off their cars while waiting, but with below freezing temperatures during the winter, many cars are left idling.
Despite this increase in car emissions, both Summit and Wasatch Counties haven’t seen any changes in air quality from previous years.
Summit County Director of Environmental Health Nathan Brooks said one contributing factor could be that this year there’s less traffic in town because of the pandemic.
“So despite increased traffic with skiing. If we look at it, we do have some events that are not taking place...Sundance and other big gatherings,” Brooks said. “So some of our traffic is down. So I would contribute that to being you know, some of the green air that we're seeing is positive.”
He said generally Summit County takes preventative measures, like education and monitoring the quality of air. But he also said Summit doesn’t see the same amount of inversion as areas on the Wasatch Front.
“We don't deal with inversion directly,” he said. “You know, we're just, we're in a different mountain climate. And the mountains kind of shield us from some of that, but we do take some of it on.”
He said there’s risk that some of the inversion can travel over the mountains, but it generally doesn’t have a large impact.
Wasatch County does see a bit more inversion than Summit. But Wasatch County Health Promotion Director Jonelle Fitzgerald said this year they haven’t seen a difference in the air quality.
“We've had fewer storms, we do have particles accumulate, and the storms that we get do dissipate that a little bit,” Fitzgerald said. “So, lack of storms in the county gives us the possibility of worse air quality. But we haven’t seen that yet.”
Fitzgerald said it’s possible that Wasatch County does see some air pollution come up from the valley.
“Sure, it's possible that we get poor air quality coming up the canyon, it does happen,” she said. “We haven't seen it yet.”
The health department, she said, was taking an active approach to air quality concerns until the COVID-19 pandemic became their main priority. She said the department has an air quality committee meeting scheduled later this month.
Both Summit and Wasatch Counties use a monitoring system called Purple Air, where residents can check online to see the current air quality status in the area.