EPA proposes changes to Utah’s air quality status, doctors warn we’re not there yet

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Utah's air quality

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – The EPA announced a proposal to change the air quality status of Wasatch Front areas (Salt Lake and Provo) to say that the areas comply with EPA standards for the first time since 2009.

The measure looks specifically at PM 2.5 pollution in the air. A local Doctor’s group says air quality is not good enough yet.

The change is based on the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) under the Clean Air Act. The areas have been in violation of the EPA air quality standards since 2009.

According to a fact sheet sent to ABC4 News from the EPA:

​”Utah has taken its failure to meet federal air quality standards seriously and has implemented programs and rules to reduce particulate emissions from small and large sources. These efforts, in addition to research, public-private partnerships, and statute changes, include:

  • Funding to fix or replace dirty diesel engines, repair or replace vehicles failing emission inspections, and replace wood stoves and fireplaces with natural gas heating systems.
  • Funding for local government agencies to create electric vehicle infrastructure.
  • Education, outreach, monitoring, and enforcement through the Division of Air Quality’s compliance program that has helped major source permit holders (sources that have the potential to emit at least 100 tons per year of pollutants) achieve a 94% compliance rate.”

The fact sheet also states:

  • From 2002 to 2017, Utah’s population grew by 34%. At that same time, total statewide air emissions have been reduced by 27.3% – a 45.7% reduction in per-capita emissions.
  • Large industries have reduced air pollutant emissions by 12% between 2017 and 2019, which represents 9,000 fewer tons of particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, and ammonia in Utah’s atmosphere.
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This trend was even more pronounced along the Wasatch Front, where criteria pollutants decreased by 19% from 2017 to 2019 (almost 3,000 tons).

  • In Feb. 2020, the EPA re-designated three Wasatch Front areas to attainment for the coarse particulate matter (PM10) standard.
  • In Sept. 2019, the EPA formally determined that two PM2.5 nonattainment areas, Provo and Salt Lake City, had met the fine particulate standard for three years running. The average concentrations of fine particulate had been reduced to 30 micrograms per cubic meter.

But Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment say meeting the EPA standard is not enough. They said we do not have clean air and put out a statement:

“That bureaucratic change is likely to hamper, or even reverse efforts and public policies needed to further reduce our air pollution.  The EPA should look at the larger picture.  The Wasatch Front needs a greater commitment to air quality improvement, not less,” said Jonny Vasic, UPHE Executive Director.  

Salt Lake City, Utah skyline82865644-159532

The doctors listed their points of concern:

  • Other types of pollution have increased and will continue to do so.  Summer and fall particulate pollution is on the rise because of increasing wildfires.  Ozone levels are steadily rising for several reasons, among them hotter atmospheric temperatures from global warming.
  • EPA’s standard is badly out of date and has not been updated since 2006.  Since then, the medical research has been overwhelming that this 24 hr. standard should have been tightened long ago.
  • Projects like the inland port are being planned, which will significantly make our air pollution worse. 
  •  Several studies have shown that air pollution increases the spread of COVID and makes it more deadly.
  • Even at low levels, air pollution can have negative health impacts.

The EPA says that Utah will need to continue its air quality improvements to ensure it continues to meet the standards.

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