According to Utah health officials, neighborhood fireworks have the greatest impact on air quality
Utahns attended Independence Day fireworks shows across the state late Tuesday, but the smoky aftermath in one county was clearly felt as the sun rose the next morning.
Particulate pollution in Utah County was five times higher than average after July 4th. The particle pollution level, also called PM 2.5 value, measures the dust and soot content of the air. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, as of 10 a.m. Wednesday, levels in Utah County were 30.1, up from an average of 7.5 over the past week.
PM 2.5 levels of 30.1 put Utah County in a moderate air quality zone. Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Cache and Box Elder counties also had moderate air quality as of 10 a.m. Wednesday, although their PM 2.5 levels did not exceed 15, half of Utah County’s pollution levels.
Utah’s air quality sensors are often hardest hit by ground-level fireworks fired in the neighborhoods closest to them, said Bryce Bird, director of the Utah Department of Air Quality. The Utah County sensor in Lindon could have been surrounded by more active neighborhoods during the holiday season.
“It seems that personal use of the neighborhood probably contributes more than, say, the aerial photography that the city hosts,” Bird said.
Lower air quality contributes to increases in asthma attacks and hospitalizations each year around Independence Day, Bird said. For families with young children and seniors, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on sites like fire.airnow.gov and air.utah.gov to decide whether to limit summer outdoor activities, he said.
Around 11 p.m. on the evening of July 4, air pollution in Utah County rose to PM 2.5 levels of 112.3 — making it an unhealthy air quality zone. But particulate pollution quickly dropped back to moderate air quality over the next two hours, according to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.
At no point during the Independence Day celebrations did the state violate federal 24-hour air quality standards, Bird said.
However, Salt Lake City is still looking for alternative options for fireworks shows to reduce air pollution and the risk of wildfires — the city hosted a laser show last year and a drone show for the first time this year. The city is also planning a similar drone show for Pioneer Day.
Although a data analysis of the impact of the drone show is ongoing, Bird still thinks it’s a better option for limiting smoke exposure during Independence Day or Pioneer Day celebrations.
The sensor closest to where the city’s signature celebration takes place, near Hawthorne Elementary School, recorded lower PM 2.5 levels this year, according to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. The highest value was 17.2 at 11 p.m., significantly lower than in previous years. In 2016, air pollution in the same area was 204, which transitions to “very unhealthy” air quality according to the Air Quality Index.
“Certainly any time you reduce the smoke associated with fireworks, air quality should improve,” Bird said. “The city deserves credit for looking for other ways to celebrate Fourth.”