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Many people who live in Utah are familiar with the negative effects of inversion, a condition in which a layer of cold air traps a layer of warm air under it, causing air pollution to remain locally confined. R.D. Hunt, a student at Weber State University, has created a smartphone application that allows people to check the air quality in the area.
“I have people in my family with asthma,” Hunt said. “I can understand being able to see ahead with the three-day forecasts.”
The application connects to a server at the Utah Department of Air Quality, providing the user with the most up-to-date information about the pollution in the air.
While the information can always be accessed on the department’s website, Bo Call, who works for the department, said the creation of the app will allow more people to get the information they need.
“More and more people are not carrying their computers around to access data — they’re relying on their phones and smart devices a lot more,” Call said. “We needed to have a way to make (air quality information) more available.”
Joe Thomas, director of the National Center for Automotive Science & Technology, said he believes last winter’s bad air quality and the media coverage that followed allowed more people to better understand the situation.
“We’re challenging the citizens to make decisions every hour,” he said. “Just look at your app and make some conscious decision: ‘What do I need to do to help this problem?’ This app empowers people to make decisions.”
The center, commonly known as NCAST, is the only national center at WSU. It began about 15 years ago as a partnership between WSU and the Utah Department of Air Quality to create projects and do research relating to air quality. In the past, it has provided training and created other products for the public. This is the first mobile application the center has created.
“All the work here is done by students,” Thomas said. “We do projects that serve the community; otherwise we don’t do the project.”
The app, entitled “Utah Air,” is available on Android and phone devices. It provides users with up-to-date statistics of any specific area’s air quality, in addition to any restrictions on burning the Division of Air Quality has placed. The app measures both dust particles and ozone pollutants, and uses a color-code system ranging from green (good air quality) to red (dangerous air quality).
Hunt said the app is important because Utah air quality can change so much during the day that constant access is appropriate.
“If we can slow down the pollution that we all create, then it takes much longer for the valleys to get to these higher levels that are detrimental to folks,” Call said. He added that there are things each person can do to help with air quality, such as consolidating travel, driving newer cars or taking the bus, and not burning, even if there are no warnings in their area.