How does poor air quality impact the average person's health?

How does poor air quality impact the average person's health? 
 
Robert Paine (M.D.), Chief of The University of Utah Health Care Division of Pulmonary, says it all comes down to particulate matter 2.5, a mixture of dust, soot, and other harmful emissions poisoning Utah's air.  
 
"If you were going to make a drug delivery system, you would make the particles 2.5 microns in size... That's the perfect size to get down into the lung, and get out into the part of the lung where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged, and to come very close to the blood, which circulates through the rest of the body," Paine explained. 
 
Once inside the lungs, the particulates cause all kinds of problems.  Besides the obvious effects like pulmonary complications, Paine says there is evidence poor air quality causes a decline in cognitive functioning. 
 
He says this week's orange- and red-level air quality should keep people in-doors and out of cars as much as possible. 
        
While some experts have compared bad air days to smoking a half a pack of cigarettes, Paine says his concern is the increased risk of heart attack associated with Salt Lake Valley's particulate matter 2.5 levels, which are currently at least 20 micrograms per cubic meter higher than the EPA standard. 
 
"For every 10 [micrograms per cubic meter] you raise [particulate matter 2.5], we get about 4 percent increase in the rate of heart attacks, so these are very significant numbers," Paine said. 
 
Thursday, Good 4 Utah crews spotted a lot of people in downtown SLC wearing disposable surgical masks, but Paine says those are not very effective at filtering air.  He reiterates that the best way to stay healthy is simply to stay inside, and of course, to try and avoid contributing to the inversion-trapped pollution.  
 

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