How polluted is your neighborhood? New research lets you see

Posted at 4:22 PM, Jan 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-01 23:26:17-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- New research being conducted by the University of Utah is allowing you to see just how much air pollution is in your neighborhood.

"We’ve mapped emissions for all 330,000 buildings in the county. Every single road segment, that’s about 90,000 and then a couple of miles of the interstate. All the point sources, the electricity generated, stacks," said Dr. Daniel Mendoza, a postdoctoral fellow at the U's Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences and the Pulmonary Division.

A map showing emission and pollution measurements in the Salt Lake Valley on Monday, Jan. 1, 2018. (Image via University of Utah Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences)

That mapping has allowed them to get down to a "granular level," showing what neighborhoods in the county are impacted by inversions or ozone.

"That really tells us how neighborhoods are impacted in terms of potential health outcomes," Dr. Mendoza said in a recent interview with FOX 13.

With measurements that update every hour, you can see a shifting of PM 2.5 and other pollution levels. On Monday, the morning began with West Valley City neighborhoods showing raised levels. But as the day moved on, Salt Lake City's Rose Park and Capitol Hill neighborhoods showed increased pollution.

LINK: See a map of near real-time data of neighborhood specific air quality.

Overall, Dr. Mendoza said their research has found the western side of Salt Lake County sees higher emission sources during wintertime inversions. He specifically noted Rose Park and West Valley City.

"Those areas generally have more of the industrial, heavy industry going in there," he said. "Also the larger roads, for example (Highway) 201, that would be in West Valley and over in the Rose Park area, we’re close to the refineries, that’s where see I-15, I-215 and U.S. 89."

A view of inversion and valley smog on Dec. 12, 2017. (photo submitted to FOX 13)

If you think that living at a higher elevation allows you to escape the smog, Dr. Mendoza said you may fare worse in the summer where ozone is higher.

"Ozone is actually worse at higher elevations," he said.

In Rose Park, some residents were not surprised by the research. Mark Sweet noted their proximity to the airport, refineries and nearby Redwood Road.

"OK. This is a basin," he shrugged. "Show me a basin valley in the Rocky Mountains that doesn’t have inversion and pollution?"

Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said the research can help her plan air quality legislation.

"It’s so easy to talk about how bad the air is, but not give a solution. We want to be more proactive than reactive," she said.

LINK: U Atmospheric Trace Gas & Air Quality interactive map

A sign outside Newman Elementary in Salt Lake City's Rose Park neighborhood urges parents not to idle their cars while waiting for children. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Rep. Romero also wants to see funding for more air monitoring stations to keep the data hyper-localized.

"How can we ensure that children on the west side aren't playing outside on a red day because an air monitor on the east side says it's a green day?" she said.

Dr. Mendoza said elementary school recess is one area he'd like to see his research help implement better policies. It could also help people make choices that can help clean the air.

"The way we hope to look at it is neighborhoods will say, 'What can I do to improve the quality of life of my residents?'" he said.