Persistent Inequitable Exposure to Air Pollution in Salt Lake County Schools


The air pollution in Salt Lake County, Utah, varies over the year, and at times it is the worst in the United States.

The geography traps winter inversions and summertime smog throughout the Salt Lake Valley, but underserved neighborhoods—and their schools—experience the highest concentrations. Previous research has shown pollution disparities using annual averages of PM 2.5 levels, the tiny breathable particles that can damage lungs just hours after exposure. Children are especially at risk and experience more than just health effects; exposure to PM 2.5 affects school attendance and academic success.

A new study utilized a community-university partnership of nearly 200 PM 2.5 sensors through the University of Utah’s Air Quality and U (AQ&U) network. U researchers explored social disparities in air pollution in greater detail than ever before, and their findings reveal persistent social inequalities in Salt Lake County. The paper posted online ahead of publication in the journal Environmental Research.

The researchers analyzed PM 2.5 levels at 174 public schools in Salt Lake County under three different scenarios: relatively clean, moderate inversion and major inversion days. Schools with predominately minority students were disproportionally exposed to worse air quality under all scenarios.

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