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Getting to Know You: Particulate Matter 2.5

by SLCgreen intern Emalee Carroll

As Salt Lake City residents we are well acquainted with air pollution, but do we know what’s in it? With the Clear Air Challenge happening over the summer, we at SLCgreen wanted to take some time to provide a rundown on some of the different types of air pollution in Salt Lake City, what you can do about it, and what the city is currently working on and has done to make a difference!

What is Particulate Matter? 

One of the most common, and most dangerous, components of air pollution is particulate matter (PM).

Particulate matter can be composed of many different materials such as smoke, dust, soot, or even drops of liquid. Some particulate matter, like smoke, is large and dark enough that we can see it in the air, but others are so small we cannot see it with the naked eye. In an academic setting, particulate matter is often titled according to size and measured in micrometers. For example, a particulate matter that is 10 micrometers is referred to as PM10. Compare that to a very fine grain of sand which is roughly 90 micrometers. 

The most common type of particulate matter in Utah’s air pollution is PM2.5. Particulate matter comes from primary and secondary sources.

A primary source of PM2.5 is anything that causes particle pollution directly, such as a wood stove, a forest fire, or a large dust storm or construction site on a windy day. Secondary sources are operations that emit gases which chemically create particulate matter. These are called “precursor emissions.” These can include operations like paint shops and dry cleaning operations. Some sources, like driving cars or power plants emit both direct and indirect PM2.5.

How does PM2.5 affect me? 

Aside from making our beautiful valley difficult to see during an inversion, particulate matter also has negative impacts on human health. Because PM2.5 is so small, it can travel deep into our bodies, putting stress on our respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Those who struggle with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other chronic respiratory issues can be adversely affected by the effects of PM2.5.

If you’ve ever experienced a flair-up of asthma symptoms during periods of high pollution, this is likely why. Even for individuals who are otherwise healthy, research from BYU found Utahns will have an average of 1.1 to 3.6 years taken off their lifespan due to heavy pollution. Yikes! 

What can you do to decrease your PM2.5 emissions?

As individuals, we can each take actions to decrease our contribution to the concentration of PM 2.5 in our community’s air.

In Salt Lake City, 48 percent of the pollution in our inversion comes from transportation and vehicles. To help clear the air, drive less where possible! Consider walking, biking, using public transportation, carpooling, or any other form of travel that doesn’t involve using a single occupancy vehicle for trips.

When you do have to drive, drive smarter: keep your tires inflated, accelerate and decelerate slowly, and avoid unnecessarily idling your car as it releases more emissions than when driving. Learn more about Salt Lake City’s idle free ordinance here.

Skip the wood burning! Did you know that one wood burning stove puts out as much pollution as 3,000 natural gas furnaces or 90 sport utility vehicles? Gross! And speaking of fires, avoid fireworks! Learn more about sustainable alternatives to some firework fun here.

Find other tips here.

What is Salt Lake City doing to help reduce PM2.5?  

Currently, Salt Lake City is participating in the Clear the Air Challenge with our 3,000 employees.

The goal of the statewide Challenge is to eliminate 100,000 trips, save 2,000,000 miles, and reduce 375 tons of CO2! Since 2009, this one-month event has encouraged Utahns to find ways to drive less and drive smarter to help clear the air. Over 6,351 tons of pollution have been saved in that time. If you’d like to join in the challenge, look for “SLCgreen” in the teams option and help us Clear the Air!

Additionally, Salt Lake City is continuing to expand our public electric vehicle charging systems to increase accessibility. The City currently maintains over 20 Level 2 charging ports for the public. These are free to use for the duration of the posted parking limit.

We are currently accepting input from businesses on locations and needs in an effort to increase charging stations throughout the city.

For a full listing of charging stations with addresses, visit the Parking page. Please note that only SLC Corporation operated stations are shown. Many additional public charging cites are available. Find these at

Other key priorities include:

Supporting Clean Electricity

In addition to helping clear the air in the valley, we’re also supporting clean energy for our electricity grid. The “Utah 100 Communities”, aims to provide Salt Lake City residents, along with several other communities in the state, net-100% renewable energy by 2030 or before.

This project will help to improve air quality across the state, and not just in the valley!

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