Utah’s ozone pollution has already exceeded environmental standards three times — and summer is still weeks away

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Over the past month, Utah has already seen three days where the ozone concentration exceeded federal standards — a shockingly early start to a pollution problem that typically doesn’t hit its peak until July or August.

“I would predict that we are in for a bad ozone summer,” said Bo Call, a monitoring manager for the Utah Department of Air Quality.

The airborne pollutant, which can burn sensitive lung tissues when inhaled and is particularly harmful to children, builds up in the atmosphere on hot, sunny days. Temperatures along the Wasatch Front have averaged some 10 to 15 degrees above normal in the last two weeks, hovering in the lower 90s and creating ideal conditions for ozone formation as spring wraps up.

With the unexpected warm weather, the state busted the permissible pollutant levels, set by the Environmental Protection Agency, on May 25, June 1 and June 3. It’s likely that concentrations Monday, too, could exceed the standard. And it’s possible that 2018 could be the worst yet for ozone in Utah.

“It’s certainly not shaping up to be a great year,” Call added.

Ozone is not emitted directly but forms in the atmosphere when heat and sunlight triggers a reaction of chemicals in other pollutants, such as those released from car engines or lawnmowers. The end result is a colorless, odorless gas that can cause coughing and shortness of breath.

In 2015, the EPA lowered the standard for the amount of ozone permissible at ground level, where humans might be exposed to it, from 75 parts per billion to 70 parts per billion after growing evidence suggested the pollutant was more harmful than previously considered.

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