Salt Lake City Air Quality Improved Finds 2016 ‘State of the Air’ Report

The American Lung Association’s 2016 “State of the Air” report found Salt Lake City ranked as the sixth-most polluted city for short-term particle pollution. Compared to the 2015 report, Salt Lake City had fewer days when short-term pollution reached unhealthy levels. 

“The 2016 ‘State of the Air’ report finds unhealthful levels of short-term particle pollution in Salt Lake City, putting our local citizens at risk for premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks and cardiovascular harm. And, since we have such high levels of year-round particle pollution, our citizens face increased risk for lung cancer,” said Jamie Riccobono, Executive Director of the American Lung Association in Utah. “Across the nation, the report found continued improvement in air quality, but more than half of the people in the United States live in counties that have unhealthful levels of either ozone or particle pollution.”

Each year the “State of the Air” reports on the two most widespread outdoor air pollutants, ozone pollution and particle pollution. The report analyzes particle pollution in two ways: through average annual particle pollution levels and short-term spikes in particle pollution. Both ozone and particle pollution are dangerous to public health and can be lethal. But the trends reported in this year’s report, which covers data collected in 2012-2014, are strikingly different for these pollutants nationwide, and also in Salt Lake City.

Ozone Pollution in Salt Lake City

Compared to the 2015 report (2011-2013), Salt Lake City experienced fewer unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report. In fact, Salt Lake City reported its fewest unhealthy ozone days ever, although still too many more than are safe.

“Ozone is harmful to public health and especially children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases,” said Riccobono. “When older adults or children with asthma breathe ozone-polluted air, too often they end up in the doctor’s office, the hospital or the emergency room.”

Nationwide, ozone pollution has decreased because the nation has cleaned up major sources of the emissions that create ozone, especially coal-fired power plants and vehicles. However, according to research, climate change causes warmer temperatures, which makes ozone harder to clean up.

Particle Pollution in Salt Lake City

The 2016 report also found year-round particle pollution (soot) levels in 2012-2014 slightly lower than the 2015 report. Nationwide, the best progress in this year’s report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution.

“Particle pollution is made of soot or tiny particles that come from coal-fired power plants, diesel emissions, wildfires and wood-burning devices. These particles are so small that they can lodge deep in the lungs and trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes, and can even be lethal,” said Riccobono. “Year-round particle pollution levels have dropped thanks to the cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines.”

The 2016 report also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, as these can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. According to the 2016 report, Salt Lake City has fewer days when short-term particle pollution has reached unhealthy levels in 2012-2014. This is in spite of a trend seen across the nation of short-term spikes in particle pollution.

Increased heat, changes in weather patterns, drought and wildfires are all related to climate change, which has contributed to the extraordinarily high numbers of days with unhealthy particle pollution in some cities, including Salt Lake City.

Learn more about Salt Lake City rankings, as well as air quality across Utah and the nation in the 2016 “State of the Air” report at