Earlier this week, the Summit County Health Department began providing air-quality notifications in an attempt to provide residents more information about the dangers posed by what is known as the ozone season.
The new OzoneAware program offers information about ozone along with notifications when levels exceed federal standards, said Katie Mullaly, public information officer for the Summit County Health Department.
With the notifications, Summit County became one of the first counties in Utah -- if not the first -- to provide air-quality notifications even though they are not required to do so by law. (Other communities, such as more densely populated areas, are required by law to provide that information.
The OzoneAware notices appear on the health department's home page -- summitcountyhealth.org/-- with a yellow sun appearing if the air is healthy, or a red sun when ozone levels are above 0.075 parts-per-million.
When the red sun appears, Health Department Director Richard Bullough is recommending that people avoid vigorous exercise until late or early in the day, when the ozone levels drop. Being exposed to high levels of ozone during the middle of the day can injure the lining of the lungs, he said, and the damaged cells are shed -- much like how the skin peels after a sunburn. Over time, lung tissue can be inalterably scarred.
Mullaly explained that unlike the protective ozone in the outer atmosphere that keeps damaging ultraviolet light from reaching the Earth's surface, ground-level ozone is an air pollutant. It is created when emissions from everyday items (such as gasoline-powered vehicles and solvents) blend with other pollutants and "cook" in the heat and sunlight of the summer months. Ozone is an oxidant (as opposed to well-known antioxidants) and is a respiratory hazard.
The notification program began two years ago after the Summit County Council allocated the health department $60,000 to buy two ozone monitors and two particulate-matter monitors, Bullough said. (They ended up costing about $48,000 at the end.) Each kind of monitor is placed at locations in Coalville and Park City; the Park City ozone station is at the Health Department office at Quinns Junction, while the Coalville station is at the Health Department office.
The monitors were procured because the health department received numerous requests from residents who wanted more information about air quality. There are plenty of examples when the public wants something and the government can't get it to them, Bullough said, but wasn't the case in this example.
The monitors provide what is kin to a nutrition label on food, Bullough said.
According to state data provided by the Health Department, Summit County had 6 days of high ozone last summer, measured and recorded in the Snyderville basin area.
For more information on the OzoneAware program visit www.summitcountyhealth.org/environmental-health/ozoneaware-program or call 435-333-1503.