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Planning Activities when Air Quality is Bad

In addition to all the outdoor wonder, religious zeal, and booming economy, Salt Lake is now also nationally recognized for dangerously poor air quality. Of course, most of the year our air remains unremarkable, but when ozone or PM2.5 levels become elevated there can be serious consequences to our health. As we move into this winter season, when bad air quality days are most common, the activities we choose for our families can help minimize risk and avoid contributing further to the problem.
Over the past several years, the state has begun several campaigns to inform citizens about the current air quality measurements and issuing warnings when levels become elevated. Numbers are usually expressed through the Air Quality Index (AQI), a scoring system that provides simple thresholds and categories that tell us what those levels mean for us.
When the Air Quality Index (AQI) is high (greater than 100 for sensitive groups and greater than 150 for all others), make sure to avoid strenuous exercise outside. Exercising causes us to inhale much higher levels of air, increasing exposure and risk to our bodies. According to Dr Brian Moench, of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, minimizing exposure is especially important for kids, because their bodies have not yet developed the same biological barriers that exist in adults.
When air is bad, it’s critical that we keep driving to a minimum and avoid burning wood in a stove or fireplace so that we don’t make the problem worse. If you want to go the extra mile, consider lowering the heating setpoint of your furnace by a few degrees (ex: 68 °F) to reduce the energy (and associated combustion) that it takes to heat your home.
So, if we can’t let our kids outdoors and we can’t drive, the best activities are in the home. Consider planning a few ideas ahead of time so you can keep the family occupied for a day and don’t have to make a last-minute trip to the store to get supplies. Share your ideas with other families! To get you started, here are a few items that came to mind for me:

  • Collect a box of craft goods and let the kids go crazy making art from it. Some of the most treasured cards my daughter has received were shell and jewel embossed notes.
  • Have you ever played the board games Make Me a Cake or Busytown from Richard Scarry? They can even be fun for the adults, blowing old classics like Candyland out of the water.
  • What recipes have you tried baking with your kids? Think they’re up for the mixing or cracking an egg? Consider making and decorate cupcakes.

If you don’t already have a favorite website or app to tell you about our current air quality, current measurements and a number of helpful resources can be found at, a website managed by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.