PROVO, Utah – Many Utahns are familiar with the winter inversion that traps cold air and pollution in the air making it hard to breathe but not as many know about the summer ozone season which can be just as dangerous on hot days.
There are simple ways Utahns can improve air quality every day to make a difference.
Summer Ozone Season
Chris Wiltsie and his family love to ride bikes. His 4-year-old daughter enjoys the thrill of going fast down Provo Canyon. “She’s just yelling to me to go faster, right? Because she’s just loving it and the wind is just blowing past us,” he described.
It’s more than just a past time for the Wiltsie family. “I’ve been able to travel throughout the state just using FrontRunner and my bicycle,” he said.
For Wiltsie, it’s been his primary form of transportation for more than 15 years. He rides to work, to the grocery store and even just to get a sweet treat with his kids.
“I’ve gotten up to $300 worth of groceries into my bicycle,” he said. He has a special front loader bike and an electric bike that allow him to take his kids wherever their family goes.
In addition to good exercise, Wiltsie said he rides to reduce pollution which is especially important on hot summer days in late July and August.
Thom Carter, executive director of Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR), said the Summer Ozone Season is just as dangerous as the winter inversion.
“It’s blue skies, it’s sunny,” he explained and added it’s also deceiving.
Emissions from industrial facilities, motor exhaust and other general gas pollutants react with sunlight creating unhealthy ground-level ozone.
“Our VOC’s, our nitrous oxides, our general emissions base gets baked together like a cake with that hot summer sun and then in the afternoon it creates ground-level ozone which acts as basically a sunburn on your lungs,” he explained.
He said the ozone can have long-term effects on someone’s ability to breathe and exercise.
Carter said there are simple changes Utahns can make in their daily behavior to curtail pollution and the ozone.
They are the same “Travel Wise” strategies suggested during the winter inversion.
“Carpool, reduce your trips, eliminate your idling — there is no need to idle your vehicle,” he said. He also encouraged people to roll down their windows instead of letting the air conditioning run.
Carter said the first, initial car start in the morning puts off the most emissions. It’s called a “cold start.” If the vehicle car cools down before it’s started again, it requires another “cold start.”
He encouraged people to run multiple errands in one trip to reduce the amount of exhaust put off. He also encouraged people to use Tier 3 fuel which is a cleaner-burning fuel available in Utah.
Carter said a Tier 3 vehicle paired with Tier 3 fuel reduces emissions by 80%. He said if everyone filled a Tier 3 car with Tier 3 fuel, it would be equivalent to taking four of every five cars off the road.
Cater said timing also matters. Since the ground-level ozone gets worse as it gets hotter and brighter throughout the day, he encouraged people to reduce their emissions in the morning and afternoon.
“Mow your lawn at night or fuel your vehicle at night,” Carter suggested. “We’ve got to be aware of what happens in that late afternoon period.”
Work From Home
Working from home is also an effective way to reduce the number of emissions in the air. “Really maybe the only bright spot [or] silver lining of the pandemic is people have been teleworking more when the governor said, ‘Stay Safe, Stay Home,’” Carter said.
After Governor Gary Herbert instituted the directive, Utah saw an immediate benefit with fewer cars on the road at the beginning of the pandemic.
A report published by the University of Utah and Utah Department of Environmental Quality showed 40% fewer cars on the road, with an equally significant improvement in air quality over the last two weeks of March.
“We saw a 40% reduction of emissions. This is something that we can continue to do,” Carter said. He encouraged employers where possible, to find a way to allow their employees to work remotely to improve air quality.
Hit The Bike Trails
One way to eliminate emissions is by joining the Wiltsie family on the bike trail.
In 2017, Gov. Gary Herbert initiated the 1,000 Miles Campaign to build 1,000 new miles of family-friendly trails by 2017.
Utah already has thousands of miles of bike trails throughout the state. Wiltsie is the director of the program at Bike Utah. He said the campaign includes building protected bike lanes in the street, pathways for both recreation and transportation and mountain bike trails.
His goal is to create trails that feel safe and comfortable for Utahns.
At first, Wiltsie’s wife, Teya Wilstie, was nervous to get behind the saddle.
“Super intimidating because I’ve just always known by car,” she explained. But with practice, she now feels more comfortable riding to the grocery store and park with her kids in tow.
“Just go for it. If I can do it, you can do it,” she said.
Best of all, Chris Wilstie loves the quality time bike riding he gets with his kids. “She’s like really close to me and she’s asking me questions the whole time,” Wilstie said of his daughter. “So even transportation becomes this special moment or interaction with your child.”
Carter encouraged Utahns to start with one simple change. “Find something that works for you, your family, your business, your community – just find one thing, and then do it and do it well,” he said.