Utah physicians group declares air a public emergency

Posted at 2:51 PM, Jan 23, 2013
and last updated 2013-01-24 00:32:03-05

SALT LAKE CITY - Members of a group of Utah physicians say the state's current air quality issues have become a public emergency and are calling on the governor to take action.

More than one hundred members of the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment held a press conference at the Utah Capitol on Wednesday, delivering a letter in which they say Utah's air is dangerous.

They say their patients are dying prematurely and pregnant women are having complications, and that the dirty air is having an impact on everyone, one way or another.

"Some women who are pregnant right now are going to miscarry, some women who are pregnant right now are going to develop preeclampsia and a few more babies are going to be born prematurely because of these five days in this bad month," said Dr. Kurtly Jones, doctor of reproductive medicine.

But the risk isn't just for the pregnant, elderly or certain high-risk people, it's hurting everyone, so much that it should be considered a public health emergency.

"I'm still here, I'm breathing and I'm happy but I am concerned," said 88-year-old Jeanne Lawler, who suffers from emphysema. "I'm living in this building with all elderly and they're struggling, they're taking them everyday because of the bad air."

The UPHE delivered a letter to the Governor's Office offering a list of suggestions. A petition signed by more than 700 community members - most in south Davis County - who are requesting action by the governor.

The list suggests such actions as reducing highway speed limits to 55 mph, making mass transit free for the remainder of the winter season, requiring industrial polluters to cut production by 50 percent and completely prohibiting wood burning.

UPHE recommends that these, and other measures, be enacted through at least March 15, which they've said is generally the end of the inversion season.

The letter also urges people to avoid outdoor exercise and to consult a physician about beginning an anti-inflammatory regimen.

But while the UPHE says Utah's air is a public health emergency, the Governor's Office disagrees and has no intention of declaring one.

Ally Isom, the governor's Deputy Chief of Staff, says the state already has a program in place called U-Care, where a group of experts are examining different possible solutions for Utah's pollution.

"This is as much an individual responsibility as it is matter of public policy," Isom said. "The governor's position is that there's something we all can do, there is something every individual Utahn can do. They can drive less, they can take public transit."

The Utah Division of Air Quality says 50 percent of the state's pollution comes from drivers.