New report details the ‘state of the environment’ for Utah

Posted at 4:08 PM, Jan 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-05 19:29:11-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- From the air we breathe to the water we drink, a new report released today is detailing the state of Utah's environment.

The report highlights the work the Utah Dept. of Environmental Quality has done over the past year in cleanup, mitigation and prevention efforts. Originally written for the governor and members of the Utah State Legislature, this is the first year the report has been widely disseminated to the public.

READ the Utah DEQ's State of the Environment report here

"I think the state of our environment is good," said DEQ deputy director Scott Baird. "There's always opportunity to improve."

Some of the highlights provided by the report include:

Air quality - Per capita, the DEQ said emissions have decreased despite a population increase. However, Baird acknowledged more needed to be done. The state continues to study winter inversions, and Utah remains out of compliance on federal air quality regulation standards. The state just missed another deadline to come into compliance and the report indicates it likely will be 2019 or 2024 before Utah is in compliance. The report found portions of Utah, Salt Lake, Tooele, Weber and Davis counties remain out of federal compliance on summer ozone and pollution levels. The Uintah Basin will likely be added to that list."We're confident we'll identify the steps and solutions necessary to get us into compliance," Baird told FOX 13.

Vehicle emissions remain the single largest source of air pollution (the number dropped to 48%). Industry comprises 13% and the rest is area sources, including energy expended in homes and other buildings and wood-burning.

Water quality - The DEQ spent about $18 million last year to help smaller communities across Utah improve their water systems and ensure that drinking water is safe. The state also conducted large-scale testing on lead in school drinking water systems. The research found 91% of schools had some initial measurements, but quickly remedied them. Only 22 schools in Utah had any kind of lead problem that needed a larger fix. Toxic algal blooms plagued Utah in 2017 with more of them in more bodies of water. Baird warned we could see them again in 2018.

"It's hard to predict," he said. "Depending on the heat, the water and the weather cycle, but absolutely, we could see more algal blooms."

Cleanup - The state counted a number of successful cleanup efforts, including improved tire recycling, a number of sites across Utah that had been cleaned up (including the site of the old Geneva Steel Mill) and mitigation efforts for the Gold King Mine spill. Baird told FOX 13 the EPA had begun paying Utah for monitoring of the San Juan River and Lake Powell for impacts from the mine disaster.

Hazardous waste - The DEQ continues to issue permits for hazardous and radioactive waste disposal in Utah. Depleted uranium, radioactive waste that gets hotter over time, may come back in 2018, the report said.

Graphic courtesy Utah DEQ

Scott Williams, the executive director of HEAL Utah, said overall, the report had a lot of good things to say.

"DEQ has good scientists," he told FOX 13. "They're measuring the right things. I think politically, sometimes they have to sort-of pull punches."

Williams took issue with some of the claims about air quality, saying Utahns wanted more action when it comes to regulation and enforcement.

"For the child with asthma, that doesn't help her to say the emissions per capita are getting better," he said. "She's still breathing dirtier and dirtier air."