I find myself holding my breath, while whisking my children from the safety of our home to the car – then from the car to school. I do this while repeatedly reminding my children to move quickly and cover their mouths. It’s a frightening realization when you feel, without a doubt, that ushering your children to and from school can be harmful to their health.
During inversion periods, I need to refer to the Utah Division of Air Quality website all day for air quality changes. In addition, I read our local forecast in search of any new weather patterns, because changes in our weather is the only solution to relief from dirty air.
The winter of 2013 was particularly difficult. My oldest son was in pre-school. I had a toddler at my side, and an ever-growing baby belly carrying our third child. It was an exceptionally harsh winter, not because of the wintry weather conditions, but because of the lack thereof. In a constant state of concern for my children, our air was at best “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” and at worst, comparable to Beijing air — for what felt like an entire season.
Air along Utah’s Wasatch Front exceeded federal clean air standards with PM 2.5 levels through the roof for 22 days during winter last year. It was heartbreaking to forcibly explain to my sons why we were stuck indoors. And 22 days of bad air means 22 days of denying my children the right to play outside like they deserve. This causes parents to question the safety of sending their children to school, and some just keep their children home because the risk of illness is too high.
Cold like symptoms caused from air pollution aren’t the only reason parents worry during bad periods of inversion. Tami, a mother with children in the Granite School District, can walk to and from school. She voluntarily keeps her children home on red air days. And I can understand why. I also refuse to allow my son to be exposed to toxic air.
As you might imagine, school absences increase when PM 2.5 levels peak. And just like clockwork, when the air improves, absences decline.
I have 3 questions for the leaders of Utah:
- What is your plan to keep our children healthy and in school?
- If the health hazard of poor air quality doesn’t get you to take action on Utah’s air, are you prepared take the blame — and foot the bill for the decline in school attendance?
- Do you hold your breath when you send your children to school?