SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) — Inversion, forest fires and ozone are a few of the major air pollutants in Utah. However, with a shrinking Great Salt Lake, many cities along the Wasatch Front can now add dust to the list as well.
Recently approved funding will allow the Utah Division of Air Quality to improve how it monitors this dust to get a better idea of just how big the problem really is for those living near the lake.
“With the drying lakebed, with more exposed lakebed area that brings another source of dust or air pollution that could impact our health,” Utah Division of Air Quality Director Bryce Bird told ABC4.
Bird explained that the division of air quality will now be able to develop a better understanding of that pollution thanks to more than $230,000 in funding. He said with the funding will be used “to establish a more robust network of monitors that are able to collect samples and then we can analyze after the fact to understand what components make up that dust.”
There will be four monitors installed in communities near the lake and they will run around the clock. One may ask why this is important. Well, researchers and scientists have found that the exposed lakebed is often full of heavy metals and other pollutants. These can be picked up in the wind and may be toxic to those who breathe them in.
“We as scientists need to try and communicate our findings as clearly as possible to our policymakers and to the public,” Molly Blakowski stated. Blakowski is a PhD student and researcher at Utah State University. She’s been studying the lakebed, the pollutants found in the dust from the lake, and the distribution of that dust in nearby cities.
The dust may be bad for human health, but inversion, forest fire smoke and other air pollution may make the dust even worse to human health. “Those can attach to the dust and make it even dirtier before it’s deposited in residential areas or in natural ecosystems,” Blakowski added.
The state’s new monitors will be able to collect data of dust storms in real time, track how much dust is blowing, what cities may be most affected, and what kind of pollution is carried in the dust. The approved funding is for the fiscal year 2024. The division of air quality is working to find the best locations for the four monitors now, so they can be installed as soon as the fiscal year begins. “We hope to have them up and running by July 1,” said Bird.
Bird told ABC4 that these monitors are often placed near, or at, schools. It is highly possible one of the new monitors will be placed at a school as well. He explained: “Some of the most critical concerns with air pollution is that young developing lungs are particularly susceptible to air pollution.”
Bird said the monitoring and analysis of the dust events could influence future legislation. “For either prevention, mitigation, or responding to the health impacts that could happen in our larger, urban areas.”