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A new level of nasty? Cache Valley air hits decade high for fine particulate matter

By Eddie Collins | Feb. 9, 2017

The concentration of fine particulate matter in the air reached a high of 102.6 micrograms per cubic meter on Friday — a level of unhealthiness that even those in often-smoggy Cache County haven’t experienced in a long time.

“I don’t think we’ve had levels that high in probably 12 years,” said Josh Greer, the air quality program manager at Bear River Health Department. “Best way I can categorize it is definitely unhealthy; doesn’t really matter who you are.”

The levels of particulate matter 2.5, which is responsible for the decreased visibility and general toxicity of the ambient air, were nearly triple the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard for allowable concentration.

PM2.5 is particularly dangerous due to its ability to penetrate deep into a person’s lungs, causing serious health issues for anyone with prolonged exposure, especially to high concentrations.

“We have roughly 100,000 vehicles here that fill up the narrow, deep valley with pollutants,” said Roger Coulombe, a toxicology professor at Utah State University. “Chemicals that are emitted from those create our problem.”

Periods of cold, stagnant air are able to easily trap pollutants in the valley, according to Coulombe, and people who are affected rely heavily on storms to break up the stagnation and provide a clean slate for the air.

The frigid conditions of late January and early February are gone, at least for the time being, and forecasts don’t indicate a repeat of Friday’s haze any time soon.

“If we can keep it a little bit warmer, maybe with a little bit of air movement and moisture, we’re probably not going to get quite as bad as before,” Greer said.

Cache Valley is expected to have good air quality for the next few days, without any restricted actions.

Residents of Cache Valley can access regular air quality updates and historical information on the Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s website.