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Utah's Foremost Platform for Undergraduate Research Presentation
2018 Abstracts

Sources and Composition of Atmospheric Particulate Matter in the Salt Lake Valley

Andrew Piskadlo; Adele Reynolds; Anna Robert; Gaurav Pandey, Westminster College

Air pollutants pose a significant health risk in urban environments. Particulate matter 2.5 microns or smaller (PM 2.5) is of special concern because it can penetrate deep into lungs. Salt Lake City (SLC) is well-known for its winter inversions with PM 2.5 levels frequently exceeding EPA standards, but air pollution during the summer months is of growing concern. While dust storms are known to occur each year in SLC, the predominant source of the atmospheric particles, their origin, chemical composition, and particle size distribution have yet to be identified due to lack of research. Newly exposed lake sediments are highly prone to dust generation. The recent drought in 2011-2016 caused a 30% decrease in the volume of the Great Salt Lake (GSL), and water levels in the GSL fell dramatically to record lows in 2016, exposing large tracts of dry lake bed. It is unclear to what extent these exposed GSL sediments produce dust, and if that dust affects air quality in the Salt Lake valley or represents an important source of atmospherically transported metals to downwind aquatic environments. Our study was designed to answer these research questions. Samples of total particulate matter and PM 2.5 were collected with atmospheric samplers at Westminster College and several other sites. Samples were then digested and analyzed for their trace element and heavy metal content by ICP-MS. Though this study is ongoing, preliminary results suggest a possible increase in particulate matter as the summer progresses, potentially associated with periods with elevated atmospheric particulate matter in the Salt Lake Valley, in part derived from wildfires in the wider region.