This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
It's an old refrain, but its warning drumbeat is getting louder and more insistent.
Something needs to be done about Utah's unhealthy air. Wintertime inversions are causing serious lung diseases among more Utahns, including children, and making existing conditions worse. Recent research indicates a link between toxic air and an increase in autism in children.
The American Lung Association just released a report that reiterates what we already know: Logan and cities along the Wasatch Front are among the worst in the nation for dangerous episodes of PM 2.5 buildup, the pollution that worsens when cold air is held motionless in the valleys by warmer air at higher altitudes. The report put Utah, Salt Lake and Cache counties among the top 11 most polluted counties in the country. That's an astonishing ranking.
The Uintah Basin was not ranked in the State of the Air report, but that's only because the Environmental Protection Agency, which monitors air pollution, is not required to have a monitoring device in the basin. Under the federal Clean Air Act, Uintah County's population is too small to warrant regular monitoring. But unofficial readings also put that county among the nation's worst for wintertime pollution.
The report points to the growing numbers of Utahns who are suffering as they try to breathe the bad air. It states that 1 in 10 Beehive State residents now has asthma, chronic bronchitis or emphysema.
According to breatheutah.org, a group of citizens and health professionals, PM 2.5 is a mixture of tiny solid particles and liquid droplets in the air. Its primary ingredient is soot from diesel vehicles, coal-burning power plant emissions, and combustible particles emitted by gasoline-burning vehicles. In summer, wildfires can also contribute. The particles in PM 2.5 are especially dangerous because they can be inhaled deeply into the lungs and become trapped there.
Another form of pollution, PM 10, comprises larger particles, usually dust, that can be filtered in the nose and lungs and then coughed out.
According to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, approximately 60 percent of PMs come from vehicle emissions, and 40 percent from industrial and other sources.
The State of the Air report simply adds to the overwhelming evidence that Utah's population centers are not healthy for children, the elderly and those with lung problems. Still, the Utah Legislature seems oblivious. It is determined, for example, to divert 30 percent of increased sales tax revenue to building more roads, simply inviting more driving, more pollution, more disease and more premature deaths.