Air Quality and Health

The average person breathes about 20,000 liters of air every day. There are particles in the air you breathe that could be harmful. Particles, such as dust, soot, mold, bacteria, and viruses, land on airway and alveolar surfaces. The respiratory system has defense mechanisms to clean and protect itself:

  • The nose acts as a filter cleaning out bigger particles.
  • Tiny hairs called cilia line the airways and keep particles out of the lungs.  
  • The airways are covered by a liquid layer of mucus. Particles that are trapped in this mucus are coughed up or swallowed.
  • Phagocytes are cells that bind to and remove particles in the lungs that could be harmful.

When the lungs are exposed to foreign particles, more white blood cells can be recruited to help protect the lungs. However, on high pollution days our defenses can be overwhelmed and our lungs are more affected by pollution.

The level of risk from air pollution depends on several factors:

  • The amount of pollution in the air.
  • The number of days with high pollution levels.
  • The amount of air we breathe (we breathe more deeply when exercising).
  • The overall health of an individual. The elderly, children, and those with chronic conditions like asthma are especially sensitive to the effects of air pollution.

High levels of air pollution affect health in many ways. Pollution has been connected to a number of health problems including asthma, adverse birth outcomes, COPD, heart disease and heart attacks.

Air Quality Action Alerts and Health Advisories

The Utah Department of Air Quality has developed an air quality alert system to communicate health guidance and activity restrictions based on current pollution levels. This alert system consists of two parts:

1) Health guidance - The EPA's national standard is the Air Quality Index (AQI), which has six color-coded categories. The AQI will help you understand what your local air quality conditions are and what that means for your health. Click here for current AQI conditions in Utah

aqi

2) Action alerts - Three symbols are used to indicate activity restrictions:

action alerts