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Cough, cough: Wildfire season may bring worsening air quality


SALT LAKE CITY — The arrival of wildfire season in Utah, which some worry could become worse than normal because of the drought conditions, brings another unwelcome friend: worsening air quality. 

Air quality affected by wildfire season

Smoke wafted over the Wasatch Front and the Oquirrh Mountains early Thursday from a series of wildfires in Utah. By late afternoon, the skies looked more clear over Salt Lake City, but the US Air Quality Index’s fire and smoke map showed the smoke largely shifted to the east of the Wasatch Front. 

Thursday afternoon, sensors for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Air Quality measured fine particulate matter pollution at 14.6 micrograms per cubic meter in Salt Lake County. DAQ considers that level of particulate pollution to be “moderate,” not severe enough to prompt warnings for sensitive populations. However, the state air quality website also included this note about currently burning fires: 

Smoke from wild fires could cause high concentrations of particulates in populated areas. If smoke becomes thick, persons with existing heart or respiratory ailments should reduce physical exertion and outdoor activity. Due to the passage of weather system, the Utah Division of Air Quality indicates the possibility of wind blown dust in the area.

What happens if I breathe in smoke? 

As with any type of pollution, health experts say smoke from a wildfire can directly impact your health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those with underlying health conditions such as asthma, COPD or heart disease are especially at risk. 

Inhaling smoke from a wildfire can trigger symptoms including coughing and wheezing or even trouble breathing. According to the CDC, smoke inhalation can also trigger an asthma attack and irritate your sinuses. Stinging eyes, a runny nose and a scratchy throat can also occur. In severe exposure, victims may experience tiredness, headaches, a fast heartbeat, and even chest pain. 

Where can I get the latest conditions? 

Check the latest air quality conditions during wildfire season from the state division of air quality website. You can also find real-time updated conditions via the KSL Air Quality Network

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