Are You Ready for Winter’s Smoggy Wrath?

SEPTEMBER 20, 2012 – One thing I know is, as a resident of the Salt Lake Valley, air quality in winter is the worst! I never thought that atmospheric claustrophobia would be an actual medical condition, but I think it will soon enter our vocabulary underneath the smothering smoky smoggy swathe of summer’s antagonist.

Inversions, as they are meteorologically called, occur when two layers of atmosphere, with differing temperatures, one cold, the other warm, overlap in between the mountains. The result being a disaster for our health. Estimates are that current air pollution levels shortens our lives by two years. Compare this to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, which shortens one’s life by 8 years. Air pollution is composed of small particles, (PM-2.5), coarse particles (Pm-10), Ozone, oxides of nitrogen and sulfur and toxic metals such as mercury and lead. Fine particle pollution or PM2.5 describes particulate matter that is 2.5 microns in diameter and smaller – 1/30th the diameter of a human hair. These Pm 2.5 particles are small enough to pass deep into the lungs. Much of our Pm2.5 pollution comes from trucks, buses, automobiles, refineries and coal fired power plants.

So what are we to do this winter? Let us choose not to live under a hazy sky and a hazy mind. Let us not sit idly by and idle our cars. Let us not take more trips than we really need to. So what if we choose to have soup inside, instead of a dinner out? Let us not burn our lungs by burning fossil fuels in our homes and around our cities. Let us instead choose the clearer choice of clearer skies. After all, a recent study in Utah conducted over 8 years showed that days with PM2.5 increases of only a small amount resulted in an increase in heart attacks of 4.5%. More about idling and why you should be wise about winter driving:

In winter conditions, emissions from an idling vehicle are more than double the normal level immediately after a “cold start.” A poorly tuned engine uses up to 15 percent more energy when idling than a well-tuned vehicle. How warm should your vehicle be before you drive it? Hint: The warmth of your interior heater does not directly correspond with your vehicle’s readiness to drive. In fact, if you wait to be toasty warm on the inside, you’re causing excess pollution on the outside!

Trip planning is particularly important in the winter: the fewer cold starts you make, the better. Instead of several quick trips, combine all your errands into one run and select your route carefully. Chances are the engine will stay relatively warm while you are out of the vehicle, which will minimize fuel consumption and pollution levels when you restart it. And one last tip for winter driving—take it easy.

The more your vehicle slips and slides and spins its wheels, the more fuel you waste and the chance of an accident is increased. So let us keep our streets safe, our lungs pollutant free, our air crystal clear, and the skies above us. I certainly hate seeing the disappearance of the beautiful Wasatch behind a layer of unnecessary melancholy muck.

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About Sami Khan

Hi! I am Sami Khan, a Blogger and Environmental Science Student. Follow me on googleplus - Read more...

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