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Pollution leads state to start monitoring air quality in Wasatch Back

Air Quality Utah
Rick Bowmer
This Jan. 23, 2013, file photo, shows a poor air quality sign is posted over a highway, in Salt Lake City. Utah's air quality has improved in recent years due to improvements in vehicle fuel efficiency, according to an official for the Utah Division of Air Quality.

Population growth in the Wasatch Back is leading to more air pollution. Because of this, a state agency is stepping up data tracking in Summit and Wasatch counties.

The office of Bo Call, the air monitoring section manager of the Utah Division of Air Quality, collects data on how pollution gets trapped in specific areas and advises people on air quality situations that can severely affect health. In Utah, poor air quality is a significant problem in winter.

“During the winter, when we have these inversions,” Call says, “we’re basically looking for weather patterns that are going to indicate the standard inversion. We get the warmer air trapping the colder air beneath it because we have mountains surrounding us, so that basically puts a lid on our valleys. You know, it’s similar to if you put Saran wrap on a bowl.”

The state agency follows federal guidelines to determine where to set up stations for collecting data.

“This year, we’ve recommended to the governor, and he put it in his budget, to start monitoring in Summit and Wasatch counties, because the population has gotten high enough there to require some baseline monitoring to see what’s going on,” Call says. “[In accordance with] our monitoring requirements, while I’d love to put monitors everywhere, you have to do what you can with the resources that you have.”

Despite population growth, Call says pollution is “a ton better” now than 10 and 20 years ago. That’s due in part to cleaner vehicles and fuel.

He explains humans going about their daily lives are the primary contributors to the smog that gets sealed into valleys. While industry also accounts for a large chunk of it, he says that actually has only about a third of the impact of car pollution.

So, he says the best way to cut back as a society is to start at the individual level. He says the Division of Air Quality uses the data it collects to proactively encourage people to cut back.

“The point is, that we all are the ones that create the pollution. Our cars pollute, our houses pollute, when we grill outside that pollutes, our water heaters pollute, all that kind of stuff. So, we all contribute to it, and so we all should be part of the solution, and if that solution is driving less or driving cleaner car, then that all goes to the good to reduce the amount of pollution that comes out of our tailpipes, which is probably the easiest way that individually, we can curb some of our pollution.”

He says people can drive less, carpool and drive newer cars that are more fuel efficient and use a special type of gas called “tier-3,” which is about 80% less polluting than other types.

He says local governments can help cut down on emissions by banning future wood burning stoves and fireplaces.

For more on the Division of Air Quality, visit deq.utah.gov/division-air-quality.

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