On Wednesday, the American Lung Association released its annual State of the Air report, and several counties in Utah received “F” grades.
Salt Lake County had the worst air in the state, earning F grades for high ozone (commonly seen in the summer months) and particulate pollution (the infamous smog).
The winter air took its toll on many counties in Utah this year, Box Elder, Cache, Davis, Utah, and Weber counties also earned F’s for air quality.
The EPA reports that side effects from exposure to particulate pollution include nonfatal heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, increased irritation of the airways, and premature death for those with heart or lung disease.
Across all counties in the state, there were 42 red burn day warnings given and 142 orange burn days last season.
Within the ALA’s report, Salt Lake City is specifically cited as part of a “disturbing trend [in] the increase in the number of days [experiencing] unhealthy particle levels.” Salt Lake City is joined on the list by Los Angeles, Chicago, and others as experiencing more days of unhealthy particle pollution levels relative to previous years. The ALA report would place the Salt Lake/Ogden/Clearfield metro area as the sixth most polluted metro area in the country for short-term particle pollution.
One bright spot was that the report noted both Logan and Provo, though still quite polluted, are seeing rapid improvement in their air quality.
No major legislation from state lawmakers has been passed in recent years to address this growing public health problem. Governor Herbert, along with the Republican-controlled legislature have opted for public awareness campaigns, but no policy. On the Democratic side, there were six proposed bills during the 2013 legislative session that would have improved air quality, but only one was successfully passed.
Locally, mayors and city councils have been doing what they can to increase use of public transit, switch fleets to cleaner vehicles, expand bike lanes, and create more walkable communities. The ALA report shows, however, that regional problems will require statewide solutions.