Clean Air – What is it Worth?

Why do we live in the Heber Valley? Why do people come here? Is it only for our incredible mountains with their scenic views and our beautiful fields? Is it for the people — our great neighbors, family and friends? Is it to enjoy our wonderful events, the parks, trails, reservoirs or HVRR? Is it only for the peace and quiet, our privacy and relative lack of traffic — especially off of Heber City’s Main Street?

What is one the common thread about everything we love in this valley?

Think about this: Could it be the clean air? Having clean air is so easy to take for granted, yet what good are our remarkable views if we couldn’t see the mountains because of smog? What good would our state and local parks be, the golf courses, the trails and our beautiful fields without clean air to enjoy them? How could we keep or increase our valley’s tourism appeal without clean air? How can we protect our health and our children’s health without clean air?

The bottom line: How much is it worth to you to keep clean air in this valley?

What’s Happening About Air Quality in Our Valley?

For three years now, the Wasatch County Board of Health has monitored air quality at its office at 500 East and Center Street in Heber. Two years ago, the Board of Health set up other PurpleAir monitors in places across the valley, such as at the Utah Valley University campus, in south Heber by Highway 40, at the Soldier Hollow Charter School in Charleston and at Wasatch Mountain State Park. In March, Heber City installed a PurpleAir monitor at the Heber Valley Airport.

Earlier this year, I developed a presentation for the 2019 Heber City Council’s Strategic Retreat that asked the Council to start several clean air initiatives. This led to a follow-up presentation at the county’s Interlocal Meeting in February 2019, where I proposed setting up a countywide board on air quality.

County Councilor Kendal Crittenden then asked the County Council to let the County Board of Health set up an ad hoc air quality committee, which the County Council approved. In March 2019, the Board of Health also approved the committee and will now reach out to all governments in our county for participation.

As convoluted as this all may sound, the bottom line is that it’s a step in the right direction. The new ad hoc Air Quality Committee can study and make recommendations to the County Board of Health and the local governments in the valley on air quality initiatives, information, grant funding, etc.

I want to personally commend the Wasatch County Council and County Board of Health for being proactive in setting this up. Great job!

What Can You Do?

There is much we can’t control about our air quality. We can’t change this valley’s geography, topography, altitude or weather. Yet we can control our actions and make a difference by doing some simple things.

education is key. Let’s educate ourselves about our air quality. We need to know what it is in real time. Ask your city or county elected officials to install more low-cost PurpleAir monitors or consider installing one yourself. Knowing what our air quality is in real time can help us make better decisions for ourselves and for our children’s health.

encourage your elected officials to look for the County Board of Health’s invitation to join and participate in the new Air Quality Committee. While you’re at it, ask your elected officials to put the PurpleAir quality map link on their websites, too.

read up on vehicle smog ratings at fueleconomy.gov. Also, keep an eye out for the new Tier 3 gasolines coming out in January 2020. Tier 3 gasoline will cut car emissions up to 80 percent for 2007 or later model cars! Decide for yourself: Is keeping clean air in this valley worth paying a little more for Tier 3 gasoline? Ask your favorite gas station when it will get Tier 3 gasoline. Let’s all encourage our local gas stations to sell it here!

There is so much more we can all do. My suggestions? Consider installing an Ultra Low NOx water heater and other Energy Star compliant appliances. Try out electric lawn mowers, snow blowers or other gardening equipment. Do a radon test in your home — kits are available at the County Board of Health’s office. Technology can really help us maintain our air quality, if we will use it.

Finally, please think about why you live here. Think about what you are willing to do to preserve what you love in this valley. Clean air is a huge part of enjoying what we love here — please don’t take for granted. Let’s all work together to do what we can now to maintain our air quality for the future generations. 

PM2.5

PM2.5 refers to atmospheric
particulate matter (PM) with a diameter
of less than 2.5 micrometers, which is about 3% the diameter of a human hair.

Human Hair: 100 microns
Particulate PM10: 10 microns
Red Blood Cell: 6-8 microns
Smallest Pollen: 6 microns
Most Bacteria: 2-8 microns
Particulate PM2.5: 2.5 microns

Who is at Risk?

PM2.5 is small enough to bypass lungs and enter the blood stream. Once inside, PM2.5 remains in our bodies for a long time and can cause cardiovascular and lung damage for at-risk populations.

Purple Air

You can see real time air quality monitoring for the Heber Valley at purpleair.com/map. Search “Heber City, UT” and you will have the option to view multiple days.

If you do this regularly, especially in the wintertime, you’ll see that our valley does get the “red” warning winter inversions. You’ll also see that our valley also gets “yellow” and “orange” warning emission levels during rush hour traffic. Thankfully, the Heber Valley is still an “attainment” area for air quality — which means we are not under state and federal requirements and restrictions yet.

Breaking Down Air Quality in The Heber Valley

The following information was provided by Chris Smoot, MPH, LEHS, an epidemiologist and environmental health scientists with the Wasatch County Health Department.

The Air Quality Index is a scale developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help make air quality data easier to read. For more details on the Air Quality Index, please visit AirNow.gov.

Below are two graphs of the air quality data the Wasatch County Health Department has collected since October 2016.

The first is a line graph of the daily (24-hour) average concentrations of PM2.5.

The second is a line graph of the daily average concentrations of PM2.5 converted to a score on the Air Quality Index.

A few points of interest on the graphs:

You will notice there are a few gaps where no data is available, particularly in 2017. These gaps are due to our air monitor being down for maintenance and/or repairs.

Also, you will notice some areas with peaks showing times of higher than average PM2.5 levels. The peaks seen in the winter months are due to a buildup of PM2.5 during inversions that occur naturally here in Heber Valley. The peak during the summer/early fall of 2018 is due to smoke and pollutants from the wildfires that occurred locally and in California last year.

Finally, a few notes of explanation and clarification: 

  • The data on these graphs are from an air monitor the Wasatch County Health Department runs for investigative purposes (BAM 1020 from MetOne Instruments). This monitor is not the same as the PurpleAir sensors Heidi Franco talks about her article.

The health department supports PurpleAir’s efforts and have purchased andinstalled some of their monitors throughout the valley. PurpleAir monitors are a great tool for informing the public and giving a good estimate of current air quality conditions; however, they are only for informational purposes and the data are not accepted by EPA for research and/or regulation.

  • The BAM 1020 monitor that collected the attached data takes an hourly reading of PM2.5. For these graphs, Chris averaged the 24 readings of each day to give a daily average, then plotted those averages. He did this because the EPA uses 24-hour average concentration levels of PM 2.5 in their guidance documents and regulations.
  • PM2.5 refers to particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller. These small particles can cause health problems. For more information on PM2.5, please visit Health.Utah.gov.

While the EPA has established air quality standards for six air pollutants (a.k.a. criteria pollutants), particulate matter is the one of biggest concerns in our area and, as such, the pollutant that we are currently monitoring.