How is the air quality in Salt Lake City in Utah?

The below article talks about air quality in Utah, the factors that lead to the observed air quality, along with some frequently asked questions about air quality in the area. 

How is the air quality in Salt Lake City in Utah?

While the general air quality conditions in Utah are bad, to the point where the poor air quality in Utah is a topic of discussion and debate amongst climate experts and other researchers. However, forecasts in Salt Lake City shows us that air quality in recent times have been much better, which may not be the case about Utah in the larger sense. Various stations across Salt Lake city shows that air quality is in healthy levels. 

Air Quality in Utah 

A 2021 census conducted in Utah tells us that there are over 3.3 million citizens inhabiting the area currently. From July 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021, the population has grown by 58,729 people. The annual growth rate was 1.8% and is the highest since 2017. Between 2010 and 2020, Utah was the fast-growing state in the US with an increase of 18.4%. While the natural increase in population could be attributed to these numbers, since the COVID-19 pandemic, positive net migration has contributed to 59% of the state’s growth (Harris E., 2021).

As mentioned earlier, air quality in Utah can be quite poor due to various contributing factors. Some the reasons include large concentrations of particulate matter from vehicular emissions, wood burning for various purposes across the city, emissions from various anthropological activities including construction, heating activities, heating for larger buildings, etc. The effects of these emissions have been exacerbated by the fact that the topological and meteorological conditions in Utah, cause for pollutants to keep building on the surface of the city, causing increased harm to the city’s inhabitants. 

Various analyses and studies have been conducted on pollution sources in Utah, and below is are some consolidated points from the studies and researches: 

  • In 2022, the American Lung Association (ALA) ranked the Salt Lake City – Provo – Orem area as 8th worst city for ozone air quality, and 17th worse city for short-term particle pollution; and Logan in Utah-Idaho as 7th worst city for short-term particle pollution (ALA, 2022)
  • A report card for air quality levels in Utah produced by the ALA shows us that different counties across Utah experience quite poor air quality, and for the counties that do provide with data of air quality, we can observe that the grades are either D or F in terms of increased concentration of ozone. From which we can conclude that air quality is quite poor (ALA, 2022). 
  • Similar values can be reported from from the report card provided by ALA on poor grades for particle pollution, showing that particle pollution across Utah has been quite poor (ALA, 2022).
  • An MIT study shows us that approximately 450 deaths every year in Utah can be directly attributed to poor air quality (Caiazzo F., 2013). This number would have without a doubt, increased in the past couple of years with air pollution and global warming being on the rise. 
  • Motor vehicles are the largest source of pollution in Salt Lake City, 55% of the city’s emissions are from vehicles. 
  • Homes and other businesses contribute to 27% of total emissions in Salt Lake City, this could be from space heating, water heating, wood burning, etc. 
  • Other sources including construction, airplanes, boats, etc. contribute to 10% of Salt Lake’s emissions. 
  • Salt Lake’s industrial activities contribute to 8% of the city’s emissions. 
  • In winter, Salt Lake city experiences increased pollutant levels due to temperature inversions. It is said that winter months in Salt Lake city are when citizens face the worst air quality in the whole year. 
  • Fossil fuels contribute to most of the pollution seen in Salt Lake City, a study concluded that 85% of harmful emissions from the city originated from the combustion of fossil fuels. 

While Utah has taken steps to overcome its issues with respect to poor air quality, it is quite obvious that state officials, citizens, and other stakeholders have much work to do. 

As mentioned earlier, one of the main reasons that Utah faces poor air quality is due to its geographical conditions. The mountainous regions in Utah, cause for pollutants to build-up on the surface of the city, and prevents winds from dispersing these pollutants to areas beyond the mountain ranges. With an already increasing pollutant load on the city, winter months cause temperature inversions in the area that make air quality much worse. Temperature inversion refers to when there is a temperature change in the normal or natural state of the area. In this case, when cold ground-level air is trapped under a layer of warmer air, pollutants are trapped in the layer of cold air, not able to rise or disperse into other layers of the atmosphere. Eventually, they start building up on the cold layer, causing for a lingering condition of air pollution, and lead to eventual changes in the weather. 

Due to the mountainous areas of Utah, temperature inversions are quite common in the area. While temperature inversions are a natural enough phenomenon, coupled with large-scale emissions from anthropological activities, it can be a red flag to the health of citizens in the area. The health hazard being that they are largely exposed to huge concentrations of particulate matter, particularly PM2.5. Utah has set up several frameworks to improve its air quality, including setting a ban on wood fires, subsidies to reduce vehicular emissions, enforcement of the Utah Indoor Clean Air Act, etc. amongst others. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): How is the air quality in Utah?

Which cities in the US have the worst air quality today?

Source: IQAir (2022, February 01)

1Niland, California218
2Lake City, Colorado159
3Martinsburg, West Virginia158
4Kremmling, Colorado157
5Salmon, Idaho157
6Toledo, Ohio156
7New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania155
8Temperance, Michigan155
9Newark, Ohio154
10Oxford, Connecticut152

What is the air quality in Salt Lake City? 

Source: IQAir (2022, February 01)

1Rose Park19
2Devonshire Drive16
3Canyon Rim12
4Rowland Hall 112
5Filmore Street11
6415 7th Avenue10
8Catherine Street West9
9Mohawk Circle8
10O Street8

Other FAQs about Air quality that you may be interested in.

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American Lung Association (ALA). (2022). Most Polluted Cities. Viewed 02-01-2022. 

American Lung Association (ALA). (2022). Report Card: Utah. Viewed on 02-01-2022. 

Caiazzo F., Ashok A., Waitz I. A., Yim S. H. L., & Barrett S. R. H. Air pollution and early deaths in the United States. Part 1: Quantifying the impact of major sectors in 2005. Atmospheric Environment. 79. pp. 198 – 208. Viewed on 02-01-2022. 

IQAir. (2022, February 01). Air Quality in Salt Lake City. Viewed on 02-01-2022.  

IQAir. (2022, February 01). Real-time Salt Lake City air quality ranking. Live Salt Lake city AQI ranking. Viewed on 02-01-2022. 

IQAir. (2022, February 01). Real-time USA city ranking. Live AQI city ranking. Viewed on 02-01-2022. 

Harris E. (2021, December). State and County Population Estimates for Utah: 2021. Policy Brief. University of Utah (UoU). Kem C. Gardener Policy Institute. 

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