This is a guest post written by Bridget James:
As I sit down to write this, I gaze out my window. This clear blue sky allows me to see the majestic mountains near my home in Utah. Today is one of the very few “green” air days Salt Lake City Valley residents have experienced during the past winter months. We are fortunate because a storm has flushed our toxic air out of the valley, thus allowing us to breathe deeply for the first time in weeks. After checking in with our local Department of Air Quality, a bi-daily ritual my family depends on, I sigh a sense of relief that clean air is forecast to remain for days. You see, our schedules (when and what errands can be run, outside activities with my children and travel) all depend on this critical information.
When I became a mother 4 ½ years ago, I never considered a future lifestyle that was so forcibly focused on watching my city’s weather patterns. But, my family’s health, including that of my unborn child, literally, depends on it.
The Salt Lake Valley is geographically sandwiched between two mountain ranges that create a bowl like setting for the city. Because of this unique setting, Salt Lake City and other surrounding cities experience “inversion” patterns where toxic smog created from vehicle exhaust, industry and other sources of VOC’s gets trapped into the city’s air, sometimes for extended periods of time, until a new pressure system is able to “knock” the air out of the valley.
During inversion days, the northern part of Utah often exceeds federal air standards by three times the normal threshold. It is estimated that during such episodes, the average person is virtually inhaling toxins equivalent to a half of a pack of cigarettes each day!
Now that’s just the beginning…
To the average child, breathing in such toxins while development is still taking place leaves the child vulnerable to a host of problems. When the air is particularly dirty, Utah physicians notice a huge increase in the amount of patients, specifically amongst children and the elderly, who are coughing and wheezing, experiencing cardiovascular events and serious asthma attacks, some of which are deadly.
Now imagine the effects of breathing in such toxic air on the developing fetus…
Recent studies now link toxic air with prematurity, restricted growth in utero and low birth weight in infants. In a recent study published February 6, 2013 in the Journal of Health Perspectives, “Maternal exposure to outdoor air pollution is associated with low birth weight” which, in turn, can cause many other problems later in life.
The last thing a pregnant mother wants to do is worry about negative outcomes for her growing baby. However, how can I ignore the growing amount of information regarding air toxins relative to pregnancy outcomes? Am I concerned for the health of my developing baby? Absolutely. If my family could move, we certainly would have by now. Unfortunately, that is not a viable option at the moment.
And now, news is coming out that if you are trying to conceive a baby in Utah, best to do it in the fall or spring, when air pollution is at its lowest.
According to Dr. Brian Moench with Utah Physicians for Healthy Environment, it is best to “try to conceive in mid- to late-spring, after the inversion is over. That probably gives [a woman] the best window of opportunity for the critical first three months [for the fetus] to develop under the least amount of pollution.”
A few weeks ago, local air activists (including Utah Moms for Clean Air and Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment) hosted a clean air rally on the steps of our state capital. The turnout was outstanding and during the open mic session, many spoke of health concerns over our air quality with pleas for our government to take action. As much as I wanted to attend the rally, show my support, voice my concerns for my family and show my children how democracy works, I was ironically unable to due to air conditions. I could not willingly get into my vehicle with my children and drive 10 minutes downtown (thus creating more air pollution) and then stand outside in the filthy air for an hour to attend the rally due to the real harm the air would inflict upon my children, me and my unborn child. I am incredibly grateful to those two hundred people who did attend (many of whom reportedly got sick the following day).
I can only hope our government will listen to the cry from its citizens that they desperately need clean air!
Thank you, Bridget!
Bridget James is a writer, model, clean air activist and most importantly, a mother. She is a member of Utah Moms for Clean Air, a non-profit Utah based group fighting for clean air along the Wasatch Front in Salt Lake City. Bridget writes a natural parenting blog called The Curious Case of Mommyhood where she writes about motherhood and reviews family based eco-friendly products. She has both an Environmental Studies and Anthropology degree from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City where she currently lives with her husband, two sons and third child on the way.