Ozone levels in Summit County as high as Salt Lake City
State officials are concerned about Summit County’s air quality. Data has revealed that Summit County’s air may match or even exceed Salt Lake City in certain contaminants.
The Department of Environmental Quality will place several monitors throughout the county over the summer to examine the area’s air quality, specifically the ground ozone levels. The move for more research came after data collected last year revealed that the ground ozone levels, the main component of smog, closely mirrored the levels along the Wasatch Front, and Salt Lake City in particular.
"Last summer, we sampled quite a bit of the state," said Bo Call, the air monitoring section manager for the Department of Air Quality, an office of the DEQ. "One place we realized we needed increased monitoring was in Summit County.
"With the single monitor used last year, Summit County was tracking pretty closely with our Hawthorne Monitor on the Wasatch Front. This year, we decided we just didn’t want to trust one monitor so we put several throughout the county looking for hot spots or anomalies in the data to validate results from last year."
Ground ozone levels differ from the ozone layer, a protective part of the atmosphere that blocks ultraviolet rays from the sun. Ground level ozone is created when there is a chemical reaction between nitrogen oxide and other volatile organic compounds, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and can severely damage lung tissue. Children are especially at risk.
Ozone levels are most likely to reach unhealthy levels on hot sunny days in urban environments, but can also be transported long distances by wind.
"The oxidation caused by high ozone levels makes lung tissues less flexible, less porous and decreases the lung’s ability to absorb oxygen," said Summit County Health Department Director Richard Bullough. "It’s a real concern."
Federal guidelines currently require all states to keep ozone particles at 75 parts per billion, which means that for every billion air particles no more than 75 can contain ozone. State DEQ officials began examining ozone levels when the Obama Administration considered implementing stricter guidelines for ozone levels. Though the administration did not implement stricter guidelines a policy that would have affected communities across Utah state officials decided to start collecting more data on ground ozone levels.
In placing monitors throughout the county as part of a saturation study, the state hopes to better pinpoint the cause of the high ground ozone levels. Causes could range from the high altitude to scrub oak naturally producing a chemical reaction to air masses bringing Wasatch Front smog into Summit County.
"Park City is very concerned with environmental and human health issues. If there is an indication that there is an ozone issue and state wants to study further, we understand that," said Joan Card, the environmental affairs manager for Park City Municipal. "I’m not necessarily surprised though. I knew there has been an ozone issue throughout the West and in the rural West too. This is not just an urban air quality issue."
In a similar study from last summer in rural Washington County, the DEQ followed air masses from California and Las Vegas that may have impacted the air-quality in the area, Call said. A similar situation may be affecting Park City and Summit County.
"We’re working with county and Park City in placing these monitors to make sure we have the county and city well represented in what we find," Call said. "In the fall, we will have all the data in and we can begin to evaluate it. Then we’ll have an idea if there is a hot spot in that valley or not."
Monitors are planned to be placed in the Snyderville Basin, Parley’s Canyon, Kamas and downtown Park City following city council approval. Another monitor has been placed in Morgan to better determine if air masses play a role in the high ground ozone levels.
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