If you’ve lived in the Treasure Valley for any length of time, you’re familiar with the word “inversion.” And, chances are that word makes you think, “Yuck.” Well, there’s a good reason for that. Inversions mean poor air quality, and that means poor health.
An inversion is defined as a deviation from the normal change of an atmospheric property with altitude. Or in other words, an inversion is a weather condition in which temperature escalates with height. Cold, but stagnant, air stays trapped closer to the ground, unable to move.
Along with that air, however, comes pollution that would normally circulate more freely. When there’s no wind, pollutants hang in our air. That means we’re breathing in more junk from the air than usual, including exhaust fumes from cars and factories, smoke from cigarettes, fireplaces, and trash burns, and other particulates. All of those things can work their way deep into our lungs.
We expect to see a layer of smog in large cities like Los Angeles, Mumbai, and recently, the gritty haze hovering over Beijing made the news. Last summer, the Treasure Valley had several days of poor air quality due to nearby forest fires. Our surrounding hills and mountains help to trap air down in the valley. And now that we’re well into winter, we’re experiencing more environmental health hazards from this latest inversion.
No one can deny that the frost-covered trees and fields kissed with mist are beautiful to behold on these chilly mornings. But the pollutants trapped in the air can have an adverse affect on your health, especially for certain groups. The elderly, young children, anyone with respiratory difficulties such as asthma, anyone with heart disease, and those with compromised immune systems face the highest risk.
If you must be outside, you’ll need to take some precautions. Start by checking the current air quality index (AQI) each day. You can find that by clicking on this link. When the AQI is at any level besides green, you may be at risk. Today we’re at yellow with an AQI of 110. Yesterday was also yellow, with an AQI of 104. Under these conditions there is a mandatory burn ban. Schoolchildren may be held inside for recess. By all means, avoid strenuous outdoor activity of any kind.
You’ll also want to minimize your time outside. In cold weather such as that we’re experiencing now, that’s not too difficult. You probably don’t want to be out there in single digit temperatures anyway.
Think twice about running your engine. In cold weather, many people start their car and let it warm up in the driveway. Unfortunately, that puts more particulate matter into the atmosphere. Park in the garage if you can, or don’t let the engine run too long. Also, try to think ahead and combine errands. One less trip to the store or across town will help keep pollutants out of the air.
One unfortunate side effect of inversions, especially during cold and flu season, is that we see a rise in indoor allergens and other illnesses. That’s because more people are spending time inside, sometimes in close quarters, and germs get passed around. So be sure you’re washing your hands, cleaning phones, remotes, and door handles regularly, dusting the surfaces of your home or office, getting enough rest, and practicing good nutrition.
Fortunately, the inversion won’t last forever. But there will be another one soon enough. For now, keep an eye on the daily AQI and protect yourself, and your family, from the hazardous air.
Talk it up:
Do you feel like inversions have an adverse effect on your health?
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