The air out there: How Utah is dealing with winter air pollution

Photo courtesy of Wasatch Front Regional Council
Photo courtesy of Wasatch Front Regional Council

Winter pollution in the Wasatch Front — an area of north central Utah — has some of the worst air quality in the country. It’s baffling in a way, since the area is a hub of outdoor splendor.

In February, the New York Times explored the issue:

For the last few years, the area has been grappling with one of the nation’s most vexing pollution problems, where atmospheric inversions during the winter months lead to a thick fog of dirty air cloaking the region.

According to [Utah’s Division of Air Quality] , Salt Lake County has experienced 22 days this winter in which pollution levels exceeded federal air quality standards, compared with just one last year.

The air pollution has gotten so bad at times that it has prompted warnings from local doctors, spawned protests at the State Capitol and led to a variety of legislative proposals in the hopes of confronting the problem before it gets worse.

As the article points out, its “not that the region necessarily emits more pollution than other large metropolitan areas, or that the problem is especially new… What makes the situation here different is the confluence of topographic and meteorological factors.”

But Utah air-quality officials have been working on a solution, and today, The Salt Lake Tribune reported that they are close to finished on the “smog-busting plan.”

From the Tribune:

These positives will happen only if the plan passes an important test, a computer analysis of how the proposed pollution controls will work once they are all in place.

That test is set for Monday, and air-quality officials think they have swept the corners thoroughly enough that the plan will bring Utah into compliance with EPA’s health-based standards for the fine-soot pollution known as PM2.5.

Among elements of the plan, as reported by the Huffington Post earlier this year:

The new regulations will force California-style changes in consumer products, with spray pumps replacing aerosols or aerosols switching to environmentally friendly propellants. Likewise, regulators are tightening limits on volatile organic compounds in paints, coatings and solvents — local factories and car-repair shops will have to buy reformulated products or install special emissions control

There’s more at stake then just air quality (though arguably that’s critical.): Utah is at risk of losing federal funding if it doesn’t reduce pollution levels.


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