Utah gets F on air quality report card: Check your county’s grade here

Posted at 10:44 AM, Apr 29, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-29 19:28:09-04

SALT LAKE CITY - The air quality in Salt Lake is getting worse according to the “State of the Air 2015,” a report just released by the American Lung Association.

The report shows Salt Lake City ranked as the 7th-most polluted city in the nation for short-term particle pollution, a worse ranking than last year’s report.

MORE: Click here to see Utah's full air quality report & you county's grade

According to the report, compared to the 2014, Salt Lake City has also seen a slight increase in year-round particle pollution (soot) levels.

"This is in spite of a trend seen across the nation of lower particle pollution levels. Salt Lake City has also experienced more unhealthy days of high ozone (smog) and more days when short-term particle pollution has reached unhealthy levels."

Nationwide, more than 4 in 10 Americans – nearly 138.5 million people – live in counties where ozone or particle pollution levels make the air unhealthy to breathe, according to “State of the Air 2015.”

"Many cities had a record number of days with high short-term particle pollution, particularly in the West, where continuing drought and heat may have increased the dust, grass fires and wildfires, while burning wood as a heat source appears to contribute to the problem in many smaller cities. The impact of climate change is particularly apparent in the West where the heat and drought create situations ripe for episodes of high particle days. High use of wood-burning stoves contributes to the dangerous particle levels in the winter in places like Fairbanks, Alaska and Logan, Utah."

This 16th annual national report card looks at air pollution data collected from 2011 to 2013 and shows improvement in the nation’s air quality was mixed.

Many cities experienced strong improvements while others suffered increased episodes of unhealthy air and a few even marked their worst number of unhealthy days.

“Salt Lake can certainly be proud of the progress we’ve made in cleaning up our air since the first ‘State of the Air’ report 16 years ago. However, there’s still a lot of work to be done to make our air healthy for all of us to breathe,” Jamie Riccobono said, Executive Director of the American Lung Association in Utah.

Riccobono said in a statement:

“We can thank cleaner diesel fleets and cleaner power plants for the helping to maintain our level of year-round particle pollution. However, the increase in unhealthy days of high ozone and short-term particle pollution continues to be a struggle for our community, especially for those with lung disease, like asthma or COPD. Reducing pollution will only become more challenging because warmer temperatures increase the risk for ozone and particle pollution, and make cleaning up the air harder in the future. We need stronger air quality standards to limit pollution and continued cleanup of the current sources of pollution in Utah to protect the health of our citizens.”

The 2015 report shows Salt Lake County received an “F” because of the substantial increase in the number of unhealthy days of short-term particle pollution.

Officials said particle pollution levels can spike dangerously for hours to weeks on end (short-term).

According to the report, particle pollution can penetrate deep into the lungs and even into the bloodstream, leading to premature deaths, asthma attacks, heart attacks and lung cancer.

The “State of the Air 2015” also finds that Salt Lake City ozone levels worsened, resulting in an “F” grade in Salt Lake County where peak levels from the metro area are monitored.

The report states ozone is the most widespread air pollutant, created by the reaction of sunlight on emissions from vehicles and other sources.

Researchers said when ozone is inhaled, it irritates the lungs, like a bad sunburn.

It can cause immediate health problems and continue days later.

Ozone can cause wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks and premature death.

More Safeguards Needed to Protect Health

The American Lung Association is calling  for several steps to safeguard the air everyone breathes:

  • Strengthen the outdated ozone standards. The EPA must adopt an up-to-date ozone limit that follows the current health science and the law to protect human health. Strong standards will drive much-needed cleanup of ozone pollution across the nation.
  • Adopt a strong final Clean Power Plan. The EPA needs to issue tough final requirements to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.
  • Protect the Clean Air Act. Congress needs to ensure that the protections under the Clean Air Act remain effective and enforced. States should not be allowed to “opt out” of Clean Air Act protections.
  • Fund the work to provide healthy air. Congress needs to adequately fund the work of the EPA and the states to monitor and protect the nation from air pollution.