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I’m Concerned About Our Air Quality!

September 24, 2012

(Update) Here is a great blog post that everyone should read:

Did you see this in the Salt Lake Tribune?

This year, I voted to create an air quality task force — which was combined with an economic development task force. They have been meeting this summer, and you can see what they have been discussing here: The next meetings are October 4, 2012 and October 18, 2012. As a result of this task force, I expect that new legislation will be forthcoming. You can listen to the September 20, 2012 meeting here:

Air quality is not a new issue for Utah—in the 1920s, coal-fired power plants and coal-burning stoves blackened the air. Eventually, coal was banned in favor of cleaner fuels. Our unique topography and concentration of sources of pollution in the valleys lead to air quality challenges that other areas do not face. The result is that during the worst meteorological conditions, i.e. winter inversion, our short term pollution can spike to levels that can be extreme on a given day. We can also see spikes on days impacted by fires or windblown dust.

While some claim that Utah has the worst air quality in the nation, it is not true. Various information outlets publish city rankings based on specific criteria. When looking at short term (24 hour average) particulate pollution, Utah ranks high for the reasons stated above. When looking at other criteria such as the annual averages, Utah scores among the best states because most of our days are clean and clear.

The EPA published a web site called AIR NOW ( that lists the current “worst air” on a given day. Some Utah cities make the list, but frequently that changes hourly. One way to compare all metropolitan areas is to compare the total number of days that any ambient air quality standard is exceeded. Salt Lake — the highest in Utah — had 17 days while areas in California had 122 in 2011. ( Utah also compares well with eastern metropolitan centers that have about the same average of days above the combined standards.

But some days, the air is so thick with haze that it’s hard to even see the mountains. It’s unhealthy. It’s unsightly. The high-elevation mountain ranges, the Great Salt Lake and the low-lying valleys create an inescapable problem: when the weather conditions are right, valley air becomes trapped while pollutants build up to higher and higher concentrations.

Utah’s air quality has improved over the years, especially since the early 1970s when the Clean Air Act went into effect. Even though industry and the population have grown, we have better air quality today than we did 20 years ago! That being said, we still violate the EPA standard for fine particulate and are currently developing a new state implementation plan to bring three areas (Salt Lake, Provo and Logan) back into attainment with the standard. Poor air quality does impact economic development both directly by adding more requirements in areas that do not meet the standards and indirectly as community rankings influence employees and businesses as they make decisions concerning relocation to the area.

With its 298 square miles, Davis County only comprises only .4% of Utah’s land mass. But it is home to nearly 11% of The state’s population. In 2013, Senate District 23 will encompass all five of Utah’s oil refineries:

I have been meeting with officials at the refineries, and pressing them for answers. Just so you know, Holly has invested $225 million in new equipment to reduce emissions and low-sulfur fuel since 2005. Due to a new compressor unit and new boilers, emissions have decreased about 80 percent. They are now completing work on a wet gas scrubber. Each wet gas scrubber reduces emissions:
-Particulate matter by ~ 65% (25 tons / yr.)
-Sulfur dioxide by over 60% (~ 150 tons / yr.)
-Nitrogen oxide emissions by ~ 70% (50 tons / yr.)
-Routing incinerator tail gas to the Wet Gas Scrubber as part of the Utah Black Wax Phase will further reduce sulfur dioxide emissions from the SRU by over 90% (150 tons / yr.)

With regard to Tesoro, the Company has recently invested $180 million in improvements and is also proactively addressing air emissions by investing in technology that will reduce sulfur dioxide (SO2 ) emissions by about one percent in Salt Lake County. It’s annual increase in criteria pollutants in the county will be less than one percent, and no increase will exceed the refinery’s permitted emission caps.

The Utah Division of Air Quality tracks 100 companies and organizations as the largest pollution emitters. These sources include the refineries, power plants, sand and gravel operations, and even the state’s many universities, due to the number and size of buildings on the campuses.

But on an average winter day, motor vehicles are responsible for 55 percent of the PM2.5 in the air. We would have to stop driving almost a half a million cars a day along to the Wasatch Front to change that component! But annual counts of traffic from the Utah Department of Transportation show that residents don’t want to give up their cars.

In the summertime, the major pollution concern is ground-level ozone. In the winter, the biggest problem is fine particulate matter. The EPA tracks two sizes of particulates: PM10, which is about one-seventh the diameter of a human hair, and PM2.5, which is one-thirtieth the diameter of hair.

Kennecott Utah Copper’s mining operations include a power plant, big haul trucks and smelting operations. The haul trucks move more than 500,000 tons of material every day, and is responsible for 16 percent of the PM10 pollution in the air, according to 2008 data from the Utah Division of Air Quality. But those operations also contribute $1.2 billion to our local economy, supply 25 percent of the nation’s copper, and provide 2,810 jobs and an annual payroll of $253 million, according to the University of Utah’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

The mine has already taken several steps to reduce its emissions. An idle reduction program has saved more than 1.8 million gallons of fuel and prevented more than 18,000 tons of greenhouse gases from being released.

Air quality is a serious issue in Davis County. Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment is a group of doctors and other health professionals who are concerned about the health risks presented by the local air quality. It says up to 2,000 Utahns die each year as a direct result of air pollution and, in general, it reduces our lifespan by as much as two years.

Fine particulate pollution builds up in the respiratory system. Research from the Utah Department of Health found that more than 16 percent of children in North Salt Lake and Woods Cross have asthma—while the normal prevalence is 5 percent.

The Division of Air Quality must present a plan for addressing PM2.5 pollution to the EPA by 2014. Gov. Gary R. Herbert has also launched a statewide initiative that encourages individuals, businesses and local governments to set air quality goals. The Utah Clean Air Partnership (U-CAIR) offers tips and suggestions for families and companies to make realistic changes and set achievable goals.

What You Can Do

-Carpool, bike or use mass transit

-On bad air days, postpone errands that can wait

-Combine your errands into one trip

-Keep your vehicle well maintained

-Don’t “warm” your vehicle by letting it idle

-Avoid drive-through lanes

-Don’t idle outside schools or airports

-Accelerate gradually

-Obey the speed limit

-Purchase Energy Star appliances and lighting

-Use a snow shovel and a push mower

-Rake leaves instead of using a blower

-Use a non-charcoal barbecue

-Maintain your air conditioner and furnace

What YourBusiness Can Do

-Create flexible schedules to reduce rush-hour traffic

-Encourage telecommuting

-Implement a rideshare program for your employees

-Keep your fleet vehicles well maintained

-Purchase fuel-efficient or alternative-fuel vehicles

-Keep all solvents and paints in air-tight containers

-Adopt pollution prevention methods


From → 2012 Interim

  1. Davis Didjerdu permalink

    Not concerned enough to say what you, as a State Senator, would do to improve it. Sounds like a reason NOT to vote for you in November.

  2. Drew Chamberlain permalink

    Show me just one obit report that says “Cause of death, “Air pollution””. That is a wild and baseless claim. Designed to scare.

  3. nelda bishop permalink

    Good overview, Todd. I am very concerned that at least 3 of the 5 refineries plan to expand — Holly to double — and Tesoro has already been permitted with a lousy safety record. Holly’s expansdion will add 150 diesel trucks daily hauling crude from Uintah and in a hurry because it solidifies as it cools down. Can you imagine 150 more trucks hurrying down Parley’s Canyon on a snowy day and then exiting down tiny 5th South to Holly? Expansion needs to consider the trucks.

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