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Utah environmental group warns about summer's invisible pollution

Posted at 6:08 PM, Jun 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-19 15:09:05-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is moving into what is projected to be a hotter and drier summer than usual this year, according to the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah.

HEAL Utah says the more the climate continues to heat up, the worse the air pollution will become, which will impact the formation of ground-level ozone.

"This is the pollution that we're calling the invisible summertime pollution," said Meisei Gonzalez with HEAL Utah.

Gonzalez said in the winter months, the air quality throughout the Wasatch Front regularly gains national and sometimes worldwide recognition. He said this is due to Utah's geography and the high emitting pollution through the valley.

While that type of pollution is very visual, Gonzalez says the summertime ozone pollution tends to fly under people's radar a little bit.

According to HEAL Utah's website, the formation of the pollution is directly tied to sunlight, where it peaks in the hours of 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Gonzalez touched on two other main contributors to this type of pollution.

Just like in the winter, he said vehicle exhausts and emissions are a factor. It's something he says is driven by the fact that the population here in Utah is continuing to grow.

The other is our buildings, he said.

"Buildings are as — I want to say — disposable as cars," Gonzalez said. "We kind of [go] through cars through our lives, where buildings, we kind of stay with them for quite a while, and a lot of these buildings end up emitting a lot of emissions just due to being out of date."

During a presentation earlier this month by Utah's Division of Air Quality during the Clean Air Caucus, some of the pollution was attributed to the fact that 90 percent of the Beehive State's population lives on 1.1 percent of the land.

The presentation went into detail about how bad the pollution was in 2021, from June through September.

"We look at last year in particular, you can see for both ozone and particulate matter, we had many days that were not only over the standard, but in some cases double the federal air quality standard," said Bryce Bird, the director of the Division of Air Quality.

It's something Gonzalez said is having a wide-reaching impact.

"A lot of these numbers are showing that air pollution is shortening the lives of a lot of Utahns, and it's actually even becoming a reason why people are moving out of our state," he said.

HEAL Utah points to several ways to cut down on this kind of summer pollution. They include carpooling when possible, using public transportation, and finding ways to ride a bike or walk more often.

Gonzalez said HEAL Utah recently received a $200,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency under its Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving Cooperative Agreement Program to extend an air quality mapping program in Salt Lake County to include an environmental justice element.

Gonzalez said the grant will be put toward a study with a scientist at the University of Utah to put some air quality monitors on buses.

The hope, he says, is to compare results from different communities and how pollution is affecting them.