We hear so much talk about the inversions here in Salt Lake City, it’s time I write about it.

Everybody in Utah knows about the air pollution and the inversions and knows they are toxic. It’s impossible to deny because you can see it and feel it (and sometimes chew it). As a healthcare practitioner, it’s a hot topic because everybody is expressing symptoms - sore throat, runny nose, hoarse voice. Almost all children in the office had issues this month, including my 18-month old daughters and many infants. The worst case was a patient who is a mail carrier who is out walking around outside in it all day. He is usually in great health but his voice sounded horrible last week!

If you aren’t from Salt Lake City or a place like Houston or L.A., do a quick google image search of the inversions. This is where air pollution gets trapped in the Valley for weeks at a time, our beautiful view of the mountains gets blocked, and we are literally trapped in a toxic bubble. So what is an inversion and why should it matter to your health?

Normally, the higher you go in elevation, the colder the temperature. An inversion is just that - a temperature inversion. Cold air gets trapped in the valley like a bowl, while at higher elevations the air is warmer. Those from SLC know that when there is an inversion, the best place to be is in the mountains, because it is typically beautiful bluebird (sunny!) and warm weather. The air quite literally gets trapped in the valley, so as the inversion lasts longer, the pollution builds and the toxic load continues to increase and increase.

Pollution is measured and rated daily on the Air Quality Index, or AQI. The AQI measures and rates the air on a scale of Good (0-50), Moderate (51-100), Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (101-150), Unhealthy (151-200), Very Unhealthy (201-300), and Hazardous (301-500). As of the writing of this article, Salt Lake City has been rated at least Moderate Danger for 13 of the 18 days this month, with one day in the Red zone of Unhealthy, which comes with the warning “Everyone may begin to experience health effects, members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.” 1

The pollution measured from the AQI measures ozone and something called fine particulate pollution, or PM2.5 (Particulate Matter). Fine particulates are particles that are less than or equal to 2.5 micrometers in diameter. They are measured in micrograms per cubic meter or µg/m3. There are also particles called PM10, but PM2.5 particles are much more prevalent in exhaust  fumes and air pollution, and the scientific research clearly shows that the smaller particles are much more dangerous. PM2.5 is categorized as either primary or secondary. Primary PM2.5 is emitted directly as a particle and enters the atmosphere as soot from roads or vehicle exhaust emissions, while secondary particulates form when various chemicals react in the atmosphere. 2

According to the EPA’s website:

The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems. Small particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter pose the greatest problems, because they can get deep into your lungs, and some may even get into your bloodstream.

Particle pollution - especially fine particles - contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can get deep into the lungs and cause serious health problems. Numerous scientific studies have linked particle pollution exposure to a variety of problems, including:

  • premature death in people with heart or lung disease,
  • nonfatal heart attacks,
  • irregular heartbeat,
  • aggravated asthma,
  • decreased lung function, and
  • increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing. 3

The scientific research clearly proves that particulate matter from air pollution causes many disease processes, not just breathing issues. According to a recent review of the current literature (one of many available), “Results from toxicological research have shown that PM (particulate matters) have several mechanisms of adverse cellular effects, such as cytotoxicity through oxidative stress mechanisms, oxygen-free radical-generating activity, DNA oxidative damage, mutagenicity, and stimulation of proinflammatory factors” (emphasis mine). These processes then lead to an increased cancer risk, especially lung cancer. 4,5,6

Cellular toxicity, oxidative damage, and inflammation then lead to downstream disease processes including cellular, gut, and brain inflammation, autoimmune reactions, and intestinal permeability, or Leaky Gut Syndrome, which then lead to downstream chronic diseases and diagnoses which are becoming so prevalent today. In fact, a recent study (2014) out of Harvard found that high PM exposure in mothers was linked to higher rates of autism. According to Harvard, “Women exposed to high levels of fine particulate matter specifically during pregnancy—particularly during the third trimester—may face up to twice the risk of having a child with autism than mothers living in areas with low particulate matter.” 7

This is a huge concern in Utah, where we rank 49th in Autism rates, and as of 2012, as many as 1 in 32 Utah boys was on the Autism Spectrum! 8

What about heart disease, our number one killer? According the the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment website:

Recent articles in the New England Journal of Medicine and Circulation (the American Heart Association Journal) have shown that along the Wasatch Front, even short-term exposure to elevated PM 2.5 pollution levels resulted in increased risk of stroke and cardiac death (Circulation 2006 114: 2443, 2006). The increased Utah death rate attributable to elevated levels of PM 2.5 has been estimated at approximately 1,000-2,000 individuals per year.9 (emphasis mine)

This isn’t a doomsday article, or a suggestion that you should leave the state (please, decrease the pollution by leaving!). It’s a call to action. Up to 2,000 deaths a year attributable to air pollution, this is insane! 49th in the country in Autism rates, are we going to wait until it gets worse?? Something has to be done on a state, country, and global level, but it starts on a personal level.

Your body is able to handle the toxic burden as long as it’s not overloaded with other stressors (physical, chemical ,or mental). I always teach that your body is like a bucket that gets filled with toxins. When the bucket overflows, this is when major issues arise! When you combine pollution with more toxins from your drinking water, amalgam fillings, vaccines, personal care products, medications, plastic kids toys, etc etc….that’s when the bucket fills up and overflows. Air pollution is only one source of toxicity, but it is one that has to be addressed, or your family’s health could suffer. Stay tuned for more posts about what you can do to detoxify yourself and your family.

Article By: Dr. Taylor Krick

  1. http://airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=airnow.local_city&cityid=186
  2. http://www.ci.slc.ut.us/winter-inversions-what-are-they-and-what-we-can-all-do-help
  3. http://www3.epa.gov/airquality/particlepollution/health.html
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19034792
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21506876
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16085126