Utah's Air Quality: A Growing Concern

Clean air is a top concern across Utah, from the Uinta Basin to the Wasatch Front and our National Parks. Growing development and population affect air quality throughout the state, presenting air pollution challenges year-round. Whether in northern urban valleys or throughout our mighty five parks, ensuring clean air for all Utahns is a pressing issue.



Normally, air is warmer near the ground and colder at higher altitudes. In an inversion, the situation “inverts,” and cold air gets trapped under a layer of warmer air. This happens because snow-covered valley floors reflect rather than absorb heat, preventing the normal vertical mixing of warm and cold air that keeps pollutants from building up to unhealthy levels at the surface. Learn more here. 


IMAGE: Wintertime inversion over the Wasatch Front, photographed by Jake Quilter.

Dust storm over Farmington Bay, Great Salt Lake, captured by Dr. Bonnie K. Baxter, Director of the Great Salt Lake Institute and Professor of Biology at Westminster University.

Utah’s dust pollution is getting worse. Airborne dust events from dried lake beds, gravel operations, construction, and drought are increasingly common and pose significant health risks to our communities.


IMAGE: Dust storm over Farmington Bay, Great Salt Lake, captured by Dr. Bonnie K. Baxter, Director of the Great Salt Lake Institute and Professor of Biology at Westminster University.

Ozone located in the Earth’s stratosphere protects us from the sun’s harmful radiation. But at ground level, ozone is an air pollutant and forms when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds react with each other in sunlight and hot temperatures. This pollution comes from vehicles, industry, and other sources and contributes to smog formation.

In recent years, increased oil and gas production in the Uinta Basin has produced the precursor gases required to form wintertime ozone concentrations that exceed EPA standards. Learn more here. 

Utah is one of the most fire-prone states in the American West. Wildfire smoke adversely affects a large portion of our population, with health impacts ranging from eye and throat irritation, to asthma attacks, cardiovascular events, and even premature death. Some wildfire smoke can enter homes and buildings, making indoor air hazardous to breathe. 


Large wildland fires also have potential to increase GHG emissions at a scale that would make it difficult to reach emissions reduction goals in the coming decades.


IMAGE: Wildfire smoke creating a red sun, captured by Zakary Cobia.


The Division of Air Quality (DAQ) in Utah actively monitors air pollution throughout the state. HEAL Utah collaborates with the DAQ to strengthen these monitoring efforts and develop solutions. For air quality forecasts and current levels, visit DAQ’s website. 

Environmental and Health Impacts​

Air pollution poses a significant threat to our health and environment, disproportionately impacting children, the elderly, pregnant women, and vulnerable communities that are often socially and economically disadvantaged. Key environmental and public health effects include:

Protesters advocating for cleaner air, photographed by Jeff Clay/ClayHaus Photography.

Protesters advocating for cleaner air, photographed by Jeff Clay/ClayHaus Photography.

Effects on Health

Air pollutants of significant public health concern in Utah include particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), ozone (O3), sulfur oxides (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Fine particulate matter are an especially important source of health risks, as these very small particles can penetrate deep into the lungs, enter the bloodstream, and travel to organs damaging tissues and cells. Short-term exposure to high levels of particulate matter can result in reduced lung function, respiratory infections and aggravated asthma. While long-term or chronic exposure increases a person’s risk for stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cancer.

Effects on the Environment

Air quality is closely linked to the earth’s climate and ecosystems, impacting our water quality, weather, harming wildlife and vegetation, and impairing visibility in our communities, national parks, and wilderness areas. Reducing air pollution is a key strategy for both climate and health, as it lowers the burden of disease attributable to air pollution and contributes to the mitigation of climate change.

Inequity in Environmental and Health effects

The level of health risk associated with indoor and outdoor air pollution varies between communities. People living near busy highways and roads, for example, are exposed to higher levels of air pollution. And during inversions, the lowest elevations in the Salt Lake Valley experience higher concentrations of PM2.5 for the longest time. Vulnerable and disadvantaged communities also face higher asthma burdens, higher risk of cancer, and lower life expectancy rates. Furthermore, low and middle-income families experience poorer indoor air quality, as they often lack the resources needed to obtain cleaner energy sources and the filtration systems needed to protect their families from household pollution.  


We believe that action on air pollution is action on climate change.

That advocating for clean air is one of the most immediate ways we can protect communities and the environment. That’s why HEAL Utah works to strengthen and defend regulations and air quality standards while supporting policies and strategies that prioritize public health and frontline communities. 

Advance Sustainable and Equitable Transportation

HEAL Utah supports policies that prioritize and incentivize the advancement of sustainable and equitable transportation, and encourage alternatives to traveling in cars. 


  • Expansion of Public Transportation, Micro Mobility and Active Transit. Transportation is the largest source of air pollution in Utah. Improving transportation systems not only helps curb climate change, it also provides key health benefits and alleviates inequities by improving air quality and access to public transportation, enhancing safe spaces for biking and walking.

Ensure Compliance with and Advocate for Updated Air Quality Regulation

HEAL believes that strengthening air quality standards plays a key role in protecting families, workers, and communities from the health effects of air pollution. 


    • Regional Haze State Implementation Plan:HEAL Utah advocates for a strengthened SIP that reduce air pollution to protect the health of our communities and our national parks.
    • Fugitive Dust and Mining: HEAL Utah strengthens fugitive dust regulations, ensuring communities are protected and involved in decisions about mining projects like the proposed Parleys Canyon mine.
    • Utah’s Inland Port: HEAL Utah actively protects communities from major Inland Port projects statewide, advocating for the strongest air pollution mitigation standards.

Build Healthy Communities

From dust off the Great Salt Lake to inversions and wildfire smoke, air pollution is a threat to Utah communities. That’s why HEAL Utah advocates for the policies and regulation needed to monitor, manage, and reduce the impacts of air pollution as a means of building healthy communities.

  • Improving Air Quality in Vulnerable Communities: HEAL Utah collaborates with stakeholders to improve air quality monitoring, reduce pollution, and work alongside communities in Utah’s most impacted areas. We are currently expanding monitoring systems on E-buses and fighting projects like highway expansions that increase pollution in vulnerable communities.
  • Protecting the Great Salt Lake: HEAL Utah actively collaborates with many organizations to raise water levels at the Great Salt Lake, mitigating toxic dust storms. We advocate for updating monitoring systems to gather data on toxins and pass legislation to increase water flow to the lake. buildings


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