Days like today I wish my office space didn’t have a window. Usually I have beautiful views of Mount Olympus and Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. Today, as you can see from this photo, you would never even know we have mountains in Utah.
As of this writing, the PM2.5 in Salt Lake City is 56. Utah County is at 56.8. (If you haven’t downloaded the UtahAir app, follow this link and do it real fast). According to the Utah Air Quality Index, that much PM2.5 is considered unhealthy even for otherwise healthy Utahns. And it is almost six times higher than the World Health Organization’s target of 10.
High concentrations of PM2.5 are downright dangerous. This description from a recent article in the Salt Lake Tribune is enough to give you chills:
PM2.5 embeds deep in pulmonary tissue and has been linked to numerous health risks, including asthma, stroke, heart attacks and poor pregnancy outcomes. It has recently been declared a carcinogen.
It’s not a perfect analogy, but to help put those numbers in perspective, I downloaded the Chinese Air Quality Index App and I’ve been checking in with China’s capital city, Beijing, on a regular basis. Beijing has been frequently criticized for its bad air. Currently, Beijing has a PM2.5 of 93. That’s about 66% higher than Utah’s capital, Salt Lake City. But it’s more interesting than that.
The Salt Lake Valley has a population of around one million. (The much smaller Utah County is about half that, at 540,000.) Beijing has a population just under 21 million. That’s 21 times larger than Salt Lake–but their PM2.5 levels are just 66% higher than ours.
This mathy stuff isn’t exactly in my wheelhouse, so I’m hoping I’ve done the math correct. And I know there are a lot of variables at work aside from population, like climate and geography. But even if I’m a bit off, the difference between air quality and population is astounding.
Utah, we have a problem.