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October Partner Meeting

At the October UCAIR Partner Meeting we had a few presentations discussing how air quality affects our health. We had three fantastic presenters join our discussion. 

  • Dr. Elizabeth A. Joy, MD, MPH
    • Senior Medical Director, Community Health, Health Promotion and Wellness, Food and Nutrition, Intermountain Healthcare
    • Family Medicine and Sports Medicine Physician, Intermountain Healthcare
    • Adjunct Professor, University of Utah School of Medicine
  • Dr. Robert Paine, MD
    • Chief, Division of Pulmonary, University of Utah Health
    • Professor Internal Medicine, University of Utah
  • Dr. Benjamin Horne, PhD, MPH
    • Director of Cardiovascular and Genetic Epidemiology, Intermountain Healthcare

Dr. Joy started us off with her presentation explaining the detrimental effects of poor air quality, specifically with the wintertime inversions that the wasatch front experiences. She discussed the fact of pollution being the largest environmental cause of disease and premature death in the world today. Diseases caused by pollution were responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths in 2015, responsible for an estimated 16% of all deaths worldwide—three times more deaths than from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined and 15 times more than from all wars and other forms of violence. In the most severely affected countries, pollution-related disease is responsible for more than one death in four. Additionally, overall exposure to N02/N0x and PM2.5 particulate matter shows increased risk of dementia according to a systematic study. Not only does air pollution affect the lungs but it also travels through the vascular system, then traveling to the brain. In 2018 1/10 Utahns that were 65+, with underlying health conditions died from Alzheimer’s disease. It is projected that number will increase by 2065 1/5 Utahns will die from Alzheimer’s that have underlying health conditions affected by airborne pollutants. Data and knowledge is power. Knowing your local air quality index when you’re planning outdoors activities can make all the difference in your health. Especially with those of the population with underlying conditions. What about masks? N95 respirators/masks offer the best protection against different sources of particulate matter.

Next we heard from Dr. Paine who discussed the effects of PM2.5 and Ozone pollution on lung disease. Ground level ozone is very different from stratospheric ozone. Nitrogen Oxide (N0x) + Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) + Heat = Ozone. Ground ozone presents large problems in the summer, when the hot days heat the VOCs and NOx that are emitted from vehicles, industry and buildings. We don’t think about ozone much because it’s something that we do not see. Wintertime ozone is another challenge for us because unlike summertime ozone, we have less information. Salt Lake City has one of the highest levels of ozone. If you are a smoker and have lung disease, you will experience increased effects from chronic ozone exposure. We then discussed the correlation between air pollution and COVID-19. During the lockdown, in response to the pandemic, we had a significant improvement in our air quality. Specifically in China and Russia. You have increased risk of complications from pneumonia and even death. Prior to covid-19, air pollution has been shown to be associated with increased risk of death from the worst forms of respiratory failure (acute respiratory distress syndrome) following viral infections/trauma. There are six studies that have shown the mortality rates related to air pollution and covid-19. The cost benefits of getting behind clean air act are an estimated 2 trillion, with a cost of only 65 billion. That’s a lot of bang for your buck to help promote cleaner air.

Finally, Dr. Horne presented a few recent studies. PM2.5s affects the entire body from lungs, it can have an effect on diabetes, increase risk of stroke, etc. A recent study Dr. Horne took part in conducting surveyed participants from along the Wasatch front with increased rates of heart attacks and unstable chest pain associated with exposure to fine particulate matter. This data was gathered from subjects admitted into hospitals. Populations who are older, smoke or have heart disease had an increased chance of heart attack within 24 hours of exposure to the highest levels of air pollution. Another study in collaboration with Stanford Medicine, Intermountain Healthcare and Sean N. Parker Center received 10.5 million dollars to study the effects of wildfires and health that will be conducted over the next five years, assessing on a molecular level, wildfire smoke and other forms of air pollution affect health. Acute lower respiratory infection (ALRI), including infections of the airways, are the leading cause of morbidity and mortality among children and adults. Viruses responsible for ALRI include Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the flu, parainfluenza, adenovirus and pneumonia. RSV is the most common reason for hospitalization in children 2yrs and under. High PM2.5 levels in the air can increase the risk of RSV infection in small children. ALRI usually occurs in the wintertime, potentially connecting ALRI to short-term weather changes and exposure to PM2.5s in the air. There are ways to protect yourself from the harms of air pollution, one that people don’t really think of is as simple as making sure your air filters in your furnaces are clean and changed often. If you can afford the higher grade air filters it is best to cut down on pollutants circulating throughout an environment, but not all furnaces are able to handle pushing air through them, resulting in a burnt out furnace. Good air filtering is also good for blood pressure as well. 

It was great to hear the science from our doctors, and once again reminds us that there are many things that we can do to collectively make a difference with air quality. Check out the UCAIR “What Can You Do” tab to learn more. 

Partners Roundtable-UCAIR Partners:

Following the presentation, partners shared what projects and initiatives they are currently working on. These included:

Rep. Handy, State of Utah: I will be introducing a bill during the next legislative session to include air pollution as a cause of death and would like to speak with you all about data and research.

Sadie Braddock, Weber State University: We have extended the speaker proposal deadline for the Intermountain Sustainability Summit to 10/27/2021.

Ed Tallerico, Utah Clean Energy: I just wanted to give a shoutout to Utah Clean Energy and Salt Lake City and Rocky Mountain Power for collaborating on the incentive programs for 2022 for the commercial real estate and stakeholders in Utah helping to get the commercial real estate closer to net zero.

Closing Mentions-Kim Frost:

The Outdoor Recreation Summit is next week in Kanab, UT. Emily will be there representing UCAIR so please stop by our booth. Congratulations to Gwen Springmeyer on receiving the Eleanor Roosevelt award for her leadership and policy work. Next month our partners meeting will be about alternative fuels and other projects going on throughout the state. This will be a hybrid meeting (In-Person and Virtual).