More and more Americans are living in places where the air is dangerous to breath. That's because of smog or smoke from wildfires. A new study says climate change is the culprit.
The American Lung Association reports on the state of our air every year and its latest analysis says about 4 in 10 Americans live in counties where they are breathing unsafe air.
"We're starting to see more and more increased levels of particle pollution, and most of that is due to wildfire smoke," said Carrie Nyssen, who is with the association. The Mountain West is seeing longer and more intense fire seasons thanks to rising temperatures. Nyssen said it's important to stay indoors on low-quality air days.
"Close your windows. Close your doors. If you have an air conditioner, set it on recirculate," she advised.
Part of the problem with pollution from wildfire smoke or smog is that it can be very, very small particles.
"What happens with these particles is our natural defenses can help us cough or sneeze larger particles out of our bodies, but we can't keep up with some of those smaller particles," she said. Meaning, pollution can get trapped deep in our lungs, or even pass directly into our bloodstream.
As far as how our region fared, Denver is the 12th most polluted city by ozone, while Salt Lake City is the 14th most polluted city by ozone. Meanwhile, Casper and Cheyenne in Wyoming were in the top five for cleanest U.S. cities for year-round particle pollution.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.