- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 20, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Two of the nation’s seven worst metro areas for hazy air caused by fine particle pollution are in northern Utah, according to a new report from the American Lung Association that offers the latest illustration of the region’s winter air problem.

The Salt Lake City-Provo-Orem metro area registered the sixth-most unhealthy air days from 2012-2014. Logan recorded the seventh-most, according to the report.

Each city dropped to one spot worse compared to the previous year’s report that analyzed data from 2011-2013, even though bad air days decreased in Salt Lake and Utah counties in the new period.

The two Utah cities are behind Bakersfield and three other California metro areas and Fairbanks, Alaska on the new list.

Utah’s winter inversions are a phenomenon in northern Utah’s urban corridor fueled by weather and geography. Cold, stagnant air settles in the bowl-shaped mountain basins, trapping tailpipe and other emissions that have no way of escaping to create a brown, murky haze that engulfs the metro area.

Doctors warn that breathing the polluted air can cause lung problems and other health concerns.

While geography plays a role, the new report underscores the importance that residents must find ways to reduce pollution, said Jamie Riccobono, executive director of the American Lung Association in Utah.

“We create the pollution and the inversion traps it,” Riccobono said. “Yes, we have a very unique situation here in Salt Lake, but we’re still creating the pollution.”

Riccobono said everyone can do little things to help, such as turning off their cars and going inside restaurants rather than using drive throughs or shutting off their cars instead of idling while picking up their children from school.

She also encouraged officials take steps to reduce pollution from power plants and implored business owner to upgrade or build more energy efficient buildings. Riccobono said buildings are set to overtake cars as the biggest pollutant as cars become more environmentally friendly.

Utah state legislators and officials are actively working on the problem, with legislation introduced each year. State officials ban wood burning on many days, and they constantly plead with residents to carpool and take other measures to cut down on pollution.

Alan Matheson, executive director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, said in a statement that his agency will continue to working to educate the public and find regulation to improve air quality while fostering diverse economy.

“The department will continue to support research and take all appropriate action to protect public health,” Matheson said.

Utah’s worst county for ozone pollution, Uintah, came in as the 13th-worst in the country in that category. The eastern Utah county in the heart of oil and gas development registered more high ozone days in this new three-year period studied than the previous one.

But it actually improved in the rankings from the last report. Uintah County was seventh on the list based on 2011-2013.

The report wasn’t all bad news: St. George in southern Utah was among the cleanest cities for fine particle pollution.

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