IN FOCUS Discussion: Growth in Utah (Air Quality)

In Focus

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Utah’s population grew at 18.4 percent or 507,731 residents in the last ten years — the fastest rate in the nation.

The growth is having a substantial impact on our state with a housing shortage, increased traffic on major roadways, more pollution in the air, heightened demand for resources, and more. Over the next week, we will explore how population growth affects different areas of our state, with a different theme each night for our IN FOCUS discussions that include agriculture/open lands, transportation, air quality, water/drought, and housing.

Utah’s geography makes it more susceptible to bad air year-round, with inversion in the winter and ozone in the summer. Additionally, wildfires from surrounding states bring in smoke, something we can’t really control. But what we can control is the emissions from our cars and buildings. Even though our state still has spikes of bad air days, Envision Utah says our air is actually getting better with a downward trend in unhealthy pollution levels over the past couple of decades. This is due to factors like cleaner cars and fuel, increased public transportation access, and efforts from individuals and businesses. However, our population growth could eventually outpace cleaner technology or some of the other changes we’ve made and worsen our air again.

In the upcoming years, researchers say emission sources will eventually shift from mobile sources (cars, trucks, etc.) to area sources (homes and buildings). So they believe the focus should be on making these structures more energy-efficient, especially with our population growing and more housing being built. Another long-term strategy involves land-use transportation changes and designing cities to be more walkable and bikeable.

Short-term, Utahns can take steps to reduce their carbon footprint by going electric, getting a smog rating, and using Tier 3 gas. At home, they can reduce emissions by using a water heater, insulating your home, and trading in your gas lawn mower and snow blowers for more energy-efficient ones.

Jason Brown, vice president of education and communications for Envision Utah joined ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen for an IN FOCUS discussion. He explained what’s improving the air quality in Utah, whether growth in population could threaten that, what causes bad air and the particles that are in it, where our emission sources will come from in the future, what’s already being done in the state to improve our long-term air quality, and what Utahns can do in the short term to reduce their carbon footprint.

Dr. Daniel Mendoza, research assistant professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah talked about what he finds common in all cities when it comes to air quality and urban development, what makes our cities unique for bad air, what he found in rural areas that are also growing, whether there’s a proper way to grow to help the air quality, what he expects of our air quality if we continue on our current path, and what we need to consider changing if we want to keep our air cleaner.

Kim Frost, executive director of Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR) discussed ozone and how it’s caused, the health concerns surrounding ozone, what can be done to slow ozone production, how growth affects ozone and its inherent problems, the strategies that have been implemented to improve air quality, what she recommends to Utahns who want to have cleaner air, and her pitch as to why people should consider changing their habits.

To watch the full IN FOCUS discussion with Brown, Dr. Mendoza, and Frost, click on the video at the top of the article.

Catch IN FOCUS discussions with ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen weeknights on the CW30 News at 7 p.m.

Rosie Nguyen is an award-winning journalist who joined the ABC4 News team as a reporter in January 2018. In September 2020, she embarked on a new journey as the anchor for the CW30 News at 7 p.m. Although she’s not out in the field anymore, she is continuing her passion for social justice and community issues through the nightly “In Focus” discussions.

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