Valley suffers 3 straight red air days

By Charles Geraci
The Herald Journal
February 20, 2008
weather balloon

Environmental Engineer Bill Bradford, Utah State University Space Dynamics Laboratory, checks meteorological equipment on a weather balloon prior to sending it into the air to check inversion levels in the atmosphere Tuesday, February 19, 2008. (Alan Murray/Herald Journal)

For the third straight day, the air in Cache Valley has violated the federal standard, and it’s unclear just how long the inversion will last.

The Bear River Health Department has called red air days since Sunday — the longest streak of them this winter.

In the past few days, air pollution levels have approached 60 micrograms per cubic meter. The 24-hour-average for PM 2.5 pollution is set at 35 micrograms by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“It’s staying up above the standard until this high-pressure system gets out of here,” said Grant Koford, environmental health scientist for the department, who also chairs the Air Quality Task Force. “On Wednesday or Thursday, we’re expecting some sort of storm to come through and help clean us out. Whether it will or not, I don’t know yet.”

When pollution levels are elevated, the Health Department advises residents to reduce their exposure to the potentially unhealthy air.

“It’s a dose-related thing,” said Koford. “The less amount they’re exposed to, the less that obviously is going to affect them.”

Staying indoors is wise, but Koford said that going to the bus stop, for example, or getting the mail is “not a big problem.”

“But if you go out jogging for a couple hours, we wouldn’t recommend that,” he said.

Some Utah State University students and employees of the USU Space Dynamics Laboratory, however, braved the air pollution while trying to gather research on the inversion Tuesday. The students were working with Randy Martin, associate professor in USU’s civil and environmental engineering department.

The researchers sent a weather balloon and attached meteorological equipment roughly 1,500 feet into the atmosphere to measure the depth of the inversion.

“This tells us how big a volume that we’ve got to mix all our air pollution in,” Martin said, adding the inversion depth Tuesday was “not as shallow” as it’s been in prior years. “We’re trying to see how typical these depths are, and that’s going to go a long way towards ultimately establishing our management strategies.”

© 2008 The Herald Journal