Tuesday , July 03, 2018 - 5:15 AM10 comments
It’s almost Independence Day in Ogden, the time to enjoy spinners, poppers and sparklers. It’s also time for a reminder of how much pollution city residents create with their exuberance for fireworks.
Ogden’s biggest spike in air pollution doesn’t come with winter smog or summer ozone; it almost always hits on July 4. Fireworks generate fine particulate matter, the same type of pollution that causes breathing problems during the Wasatch Front’s winter inversions.
Air quality scientists know the pollution comes from fireworks, too, because the same gases and metals that make all the bright, sparkly colors land on air monitoring filters and leave behind a chemical footprint.
“Ogden is very patriotic, is the only thing I can figure,” said Bo Call, air monitoring manager with the Utah Division of Air Quality.
Last year, DAQ measured an average of 77.3 micrograms per cubic meter of fine particulate matter in Ogden on July 4. By comparison, the city’s worst inversion day, on Jan. 19, had an average of 51.9 micrograms per cubic meter of particulate pollution.
Ogden consistently has higher levels of July 4 firework pollution compared to other Wasatch Front cities, too. Last year it was nearly twice as bad as the highest levels measured in Salt Lake City and nearly four times worse than Provo.
“I live near Ogden. I have driven around on the Fourth of July and I’ve seen the streets in the vicinity of our monitoring station,” Call said. “It’s challenging to even drive around at times. It looks like a London fog, it’s so smoky there from all the fireworks going off.”
Last July 4, Ogden’s worst particulate pollution over a one-hour period peaked at 790.3 micrograms — more than 39 times the annual average.
Independence Day pollution levels dipped in 2015 and 2016. Call said that’s likely due to weather and wind patterns in the area, not doused firework fervor.
“We’ve gone around trying to figure out if it’s a specific thing, one big city event causing it, and we haven’t found that there is one,” Call said. “It just seems to be there are a lot of individuals who like to do their fireworks at home.”
While fireworks can be a fun, festive way to celebrate summer holidays, it’s important to be sensitive to those with breathing problems. Children, the elderly and those with asthma are especially prone to health problems from pollution.
“Every year we see significant spikes in particulate matter concentrations on July 4th and Pioneer Day,” said Bryce Bird, DAQ director, in a statement. “These spikes are mostly related to the smaller, neighborhood fireworks and barbecues. Exceptional events like wildfires and fireworks on holidays can make our air quality much worse — a fact that we hope people will take into consideration when planning their holiday parties.”
Federal regulators like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency give non-attainment areas like the Wasatch Front a pass for air quality issues out of their control — events like fireworks, dust storms or wildfires. But lungs aren’t as forgiving.
“From a health standpoint, it doesn’t matter how that stuff gets in the air, it just matters that you’re breathing it,” Call said.
DAQ officials recommend viewing fireworks from a safe distance. Those who are especially sensitive should stay indoors especially during evening hours. To keep an eye on pollution levels, check the DAQ’s hourly monitoring on the UtahAir app or visit airquality.utah.gov.
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