SALT LAKE CITY — Schools in parts of Utah kept students inside for sports and recess Tuesday after soaring pollution levels prompted state health warnings on driving and outdoor activity.
Highland Park Elementary students with respiratory problems were kept inside for morning recess and no one was allowed outside for lunch recess, principal Sue Parker said.
Most students don't seem to mind, but teachers have to make an adjustment to their plans, she said.
"It's a drag," she added.
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For the third straight day, AIRNow, a national index for reporting daily air quality, ranked portions of Utah as having the most polluted air in the country, thanks to a growing layer of dust pinned by cold air against the Salt Lake Valley floor.
Tuesday's pollution levels in Salt Lake and Davis counties far exceeded health standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency. State data showed that Salt Lake City has exceeded standards for tiny flecks of pollution known at PM2.5 since Saturday, with Tuesday's reading nearly three times that of federal standards.
At those levels, it's more likely that harmful bits of pollution will be inhaled and damage sensitive lung tissue, cause tightness in the chest and other health effects, said Rebecca Jorgensen, with the state health department's asthma program.
"It's going to affect even those that don't have chronic conditions," Jorgensen said.
Prolonged exposure to PM2.5 has been linked to premature death in people with heart and lung disease, increased hospital admissions and exacerbated health problems.
A Pacific storm was expected to blow in today, increasing chances for precipitation and partial relief from inversion-trapped pollution.
"Right now, we don't think it will completely clear the air" but it will help some areas, said Linda Cheng, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.
State environmental officials late Tuesday afternoon issued a new "red" air quality alert for the five counties today, saying everyone should reduce exertion outdoors.