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Pollution report again gives Utah counties failing grades

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(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Salt Lake City skyline is visible through an inversion that covers the Salt Lake Valley Friday, January 7, 2011.

By Judy Fahys

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Apr 25 2012 08:05AM
Updated Apr 26, 2012 07:36AM

The American Lung Association has given seven Utah counties failing grades for air pollution even though it acknowledges progress on some fronts.

The health advocacy group’s latest "State of the Air" report gives "F" grades to two new counties on its annual list of places where pollution is a significant problem: Box Elder flunked for episodes of winter PM2.5 pollution and Uintah County got low marks for high ozone pollution in two of the past three winters.

Meanwhile, the four Wasatch Front counties — Weber, Davis, Salt Lake and Utah — plus Cache County received "F" grades for spikes of PM2.5 pollution, the microscopic soot that settles into northern Utah valleys for days and sometimes weeks at a time during winter inversions.

In addition, Salt Lake and Davis counties were also faulted for unhealthy levels of ozone pollution, often called "smog."

Based on estimates provided by the lung association, the health of roughly half of Utah’s residents is susceptible to air pollution, including the young, the old and people with heart and lung problems.

Glenn Lanham, executive director for the lung association’s Utah office, noted that this year’s report shows "steady progress in cutting dangerous pollution from the air as a result of cleanup efforts required under the Clean Air Act."

Five counties – including three of the five that received "Fs" — showed improvement in air quality for summer pollution. Box Elder, Cache, Tooele, Utah and Weber registered progress in curbing ozone, according to State of the Air. In addition, no Utah counties were on the lung association’s list for having persistent levels of high ozone.

"But millions of Americans across the country," Lanham added, "including those in Utah, are still forced to breathe unhealthy levels of air pollution as a result of air quality standards that are outdated."

Karen Hevel-Mingo, director of Breathe Utah, echoed the notion that clean air is a community endeavor.

"The release of today’s State of the Air report demonstrates why it is critical that all Utahns, from politicians to business owners to individuals, recognize their responsibility in cleaning up Utah’s air," she said.

"Bad air quality harms the economy, individuals’ health and the scenic beauty of the state. Salt Lake County’s persistent grade of "F" and the disturbing fall of Uintah County from "A" to "F" should alarm us all."

Cherise Udell, founder of Utah Moms for Clean Air, pointed to statistics from the State of the Air new report: nearly three quarters of voters say that people don’t have to choose between air quality and a strong economy.

"We can achieve both," she said. "So, it is time again to ask our elected representatives why are they not doing more to ensure the birthright of every child to breathe clean air."

Udell also pointed out that this year’s lung association report includes Salt Lake City, Logan and Ogden as being among the top 10 most polluted cities in the nation for acute particulate matter pollution. She said the pollution leads to about 1,000 to 2,000 Utahns premature deaths every year.

Bryce Bird, director of the Utah Division of Air Quality, noted the report underscores the importance of clean air and the state’s active commitment to improve it.

"We all need to do what we can," he said, pointing to the state’s voluntary programs for pollution reduction, including the Utah Clean Air Partnership, U-CAIR.

fahys@sltrib.com

Twitter: @judyfutah

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