PROVO, Utah – Marathon runner Ruthie Veater normally trains for her long-distance races outside, but due to the fact that northern Utah has had some of the worst air in the nation this year, she’s been keeping her workouts indoors.
“Running outdoors when the air is really bad, it kills me,” Veater said. “I feel like I’m suffocating.”
The cause of the smoggy skies are winter inversions, which are unique to Utah because of the region’s Wasatch Mountains. Inversions take place when a layer of warm air sits between mountain ranges and keeps cold air and pollutants from vehicles and fireplaces from escaping.
“The air is full of contaminants,” Veater said. “It’s just really dirty.”
The Salt Lake City area has recently had some of the country’s highest air quality indexes. Earlier this month, the AQI rose to 130 – a number that signifies unhealthy conditions for sensitive groups.
“It also affects people that have a lot of health issues, like respiratory distress,” said Veater, who has worked as a registered nurse for 35 years. “When they have lung problems, it’s hard for them to breath.”
The RN also said that it’s not a bad idea for even healthy people to avoid the poor air.
“I would suggest staying indoors when there’s an inversion,” she said. “You don’t need to be outdoors. You don’t need to be breathing this nasty air.”
In an effort to clean up the air, the state has proposed a permanent winter-long ban on wood burning in counties that have the worst problem. For now, though, residents can only hope for relief through Mother Nature.
According to local weather forecasters, the dirty air will remain in Utah until a storm system is strong enough to push it out of the valleys.