Fighting Summer Ozone in Utah Will Require Collective Action

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

Al Hartman | The Salt Lake Tribune View of the white mist in the valley looking west from the Utah Capitol on Wednesday, July 1, 2015.

Utah’s air quality concerns us all and we can all do something to improve it. This 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 between individuals and businesses to see who can cut the most emissions and help reduce “purify the air”. Those who participate in the Challenge are encouraged to change their daily habits and try alternative modes of transport rather than driving alone in the car, and hopefully create new habits that will continue throughout the year.

For the past few years, the Challenge has been held in February to combat the winter inversion when air quality is visibly at its worst. However, this year the challenge was moved to July to focus on summer ozone issues in Utah, which can be just as harmful but not as noticeable as winter inversions.

Ozone reduction will improve our health and our environment. Some experts have even described the effect of ozone breathing as “sunburning the lungs”. Fortunately, there are many things we, as individuals and businesses, can do to reduce our emissions and protect our health.

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

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

Another way to fight our ozone is to allow employees to work from home on Air Quality Action Days. One lesson that has emerged from the pandemic is that working from home is not only more accessible than we thought, but also good for the environment. Consider, for example, how the state of Utah adopted a new policy allowing state employees to work remotely on action forecasts or red days. This type of anticipation is necessary if we are to maintain the quality of our air at a breathable level.

Finally, remember that during the summer, timing matters. Eliminate as many emissions as possible during the heat of the day and early evening when ozone forms due to the reaction of emissions in the air with sunlight and high heat. Limit or eliminate travel during this time using the TravelWise strategies above and encourage your employees or colleagues 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’s no secret that Utah’s unique geography makes it particularly vulnerable to air pollution problems. Although we cannot change our geographical composition, we can certainly change our habits during the difficult months of the year.

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

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

Kim Frost is executive director of Utah Clean Air Partnership.

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