Two signs hung over I-15 at 600 North in Salt Lake City on Monday. The first reads “All We Want 4 Xmas is Clean Air,” the second wishes motorists along the heavily traveled stretch of road to “Have a Holly Smoggy Xmas.”
This public display comes on the heals of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality officially announcing that air along the Wasatch Front is “Unhealthy”—meaning that people with lung disease such as asthma, children and older adults, and people who are active outdoors should try to avoid prolonged time outdoors or engage in high exertion activities that would require heavy breathing of the air. Even healthy individuals who work outdoors should limit prolonged exposure.
Though the originators of the signs on I-15 are unknown, another group has decided to use the signs as an unofficial kickoff to their planed “12 Polluted Days of Christmas – A Utah Special” by showing solidarity with the message shown to motorists.
Clean Air Now! was founded by Carl Ingwell in October of this year and has seen steady growth as the haze has set in. The group’s Facebook page boasts roughly 500 members solidified around the message that they “are not asking for another task force, or committee to discuss the issue, we are asking for action.” The 12 Polluted Days of Christmas teams Clean Air Now! with groups Communities for Clean Air and Utah Moms for Clean Air to draw attention to the failings of policymakers to act towards cleaning up the Wasatch Front’s infamous inversion.
“Wasatch Front residents are already so fed up with red air days that they’ve decided to take action and spread the word for clean air,” said Ingwell, ” since [residents] can’t get any results from asking their elected officials for clean air, they’ve turned to Santa.”
Today, the group will dress as Santa and his elves and hand out candy canes and breathing masks outside of the Trolley Square Whole Foods to encourage others to join their cause. Other events will have similar Christmas themes, designed to draw attention to what they feel are steps in the wrong direction for air quality, including allowing the expansion of the West Davis Freeway in Northern Davis County, granting permits for the Holly Refinery expansion, and allowing Stericycle to continue to operate.
Three Utah cities, Logan, Provo, and Salt Lake, are forecasted to have some of the worst air in the nation Tuesday, according to airnow.gov – a website dedicated to monitoring the nation’s air. A storm in the coming days is expected to push out the polluted air trapped by those regions natural geography and air flow patterns. If no other systems pass through, severe inversions can return within one to two weeks and persist well into March.
Fine air particulate pollution, like the pollution seen along the Wasatch Front, is responsible for asthma and other respiratory diseases, cardiovascular issues, birth defects, lung cancer, and is estimated to cause upwards of 52,000 premature deaths in the United States each year. In nature, sources of fine air particulates can include dust storms, forest fires, bacteria and mold, and mites. Man made causes of fine particulates are created through the burning of fossil fuels in vehicles and power plants. According to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, “the biggest source of all fine particles is vehicles.”
During the 2012-2013 inversion season, there were a total of 35 mandatory “no burn” days and 14 voluntary “no burn” days in Salt Lake and Davis County—equating to roughly one in four days during the winter season when the air posed a risk to citizens health. As of December 12th, Utah County has had three mandatory no burn days, while Salt Lake, Davis, and Cache have had two.