Skip to main content

Utah Study Pegs Wood Smoke as a Contributor to Winter Inversions

(SALT LAKE CITY) -- A newly published study by University of Utah researchers has identified wood burning as an important contributor to fine particulate matter during winter inversions.

Published in the latest edition of Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association, the study examined four years of PM (particulate matter) filter composition data from the Utah Division of Air Quality over a six-month period before releasing the recent findings.

Researchers discovered that at the Hawthorne air quality monitoring station in Salt Lake City, the contributions from wood smoke to inversion are similar to the contributions from gasoline-fueled vehicles. Researchers also examined a link between ammonium chloride and the element's contributions during strong inversion periods.

The report was authored by Kerry E. Kelly, a research associate with the Department of Chemical Engineering and Institute for Clean and Secure Energy and associate director of the University of Utah Program for Air Quality, Health and Society. Other authors included Robert Kotchenruther, an environmental scientist with U.S. EPA Region-10; Roman Kuprov, an environmental scientist with the Utah Division of Air Quality and Geoffrey D. Silcox, a lecturing professor and associate chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Utah.

"In addition to the usual suspects (transportation, other sources of combustion, dust and atmospheric reactions), wood burning is an important contributor to fine particulate matter during winter inversions," said Kelly, summarizing the study's findings.

"People are always asking what they can do to improve air quality. I'd say that in addition to other important measures like cutting down their driving , they should not burn wood during the winter unless we are in the middle of a precipitation event or there is a good, stiff breeze … Some people think that they are helping the environment because burning wood is renewable, but burning wood emits thousands of time more particulate matter than natural gas for the same amount of energy so it isn't a good fit for our valley in the during our inversion season."