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State may upgrade air quality monitors in Wasatch, Summit counties

Deer Creek Reservoir, Wasatch County
David Katz
Adobe Stock
[FILE] An effect called inversion traps air, which can be hazy, inside the Heber Valley, as pictured at Deer Creek Reservoir.

It was a smoggy start to the week in the Heber Valley. A new device the state wants to install there could help read air quality more precisely, but first it needs a home.

The Heber City map on Purple Air showed air quality hovering in the orange measurement to begin the week.

As Wasatch County Health Department Epidemiologist Chris Smoot explained, that’s not great but shouldn’t alarm most people.

“Members of sensitive groups may experience health effects. So, those sensitive groups would be someone with a chronic lung issue or asthma, or just maybe immunosuppressed, some immune system issues. However, the general public should not really be affected too much.”

He said people in those groups should not spend much time breathing outside air if they can avoid it. When the quality is in the red category, which is worse than the smoggy days this week in Heber, others may want to limit their exposure as well.

The health department installed some of the Purple Air monitors around the Heber Valley. But the state wants to give the area an officially licensed and potentially more reliable alternative.

Like Purple Air monitors, the state-certified machine would use laser technology to measure air contents. Smoot said the health department tested the two types against each other and found the state model is slightly more accurate overall.

According to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Heber’s population has met a threshold that warrants a state-sponsored air quality monitor.

Smoot said even though the Purple Air monitors are useful, the state system could offer more reliable data.

“It's something that the state's doing just to establish kind of a baseline and get official data on the record. With the state monitors, those typically aren't real time, it's maybe more precise, I guess more precise machinery. It's a little bit of a different process.”

The state has worked with local government to find a place to put the new machine. So far they’ve passed over several options in and around Heber City. Smoot said they may have landed on a location in Charleston near Soldier Hollow Charter School, but that depends on whether they can get enough power to that spot.

Smoot said tests have shown air quality is usually consistent throughout much of the valley. However, some spots that have Purple Air monitors may show readings that aren’t as reliable. For example, the monitor at the intersection of U.S. highways 40 and 189 in southern Heber City may pick up more exhaust because of the many cars that pass through.

Smoot said the state is also seeking to put the same kind of monitor in Summit County, in the Park City area.

The Heber Valley is prone to inversion, a phenomenon wherein a layer of warm air acts as a cap and keeps air — and pollution — trapped between mountains. Only a strong storm blows that out, so when it’s hazy outside, health officials also encourage people to cut down activities that produce smoke, such as driving.