There are now two ways in which Utah resembles a third world country. The first is our well-documented birthrate; the highest in the nation. But this month we managed to set ourselves apart yet again by showing the rest of the nation that we may only be the thirty-fourth most populated state in the country but we can still pollute like number one. Starting on Jan. 10 the Environmental Protection Agency’s national pollution map showed that the Wasatch Front had the worst air quality in the entire United States.
“As most residents of the Wasatch Front can attest, we have had the worst air pollution in the country for much of the last two weeks,” said Dr. Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Health Environment. “About 60 percent of the air pollution generated locally comes from vehicles, the remainder from industry and a little from out of state.”
As everyone knows, it is not entirely our fault that our air quality is so poor. We live in an area where inversions keep our pollution from dispersing into the rest of the world’s air supply. Some will (and do) use this as a justification for relaxed air quality standards. After all, we can’t help it so we cannot be held to the same standards as the rest of the country, right? Unfortunately we still have to breathe in the pollutants that we put into the air, and our lungs are not going to cut us some slack just because nature dealt us a bad hand. Like it or not we may have to do a little extra to keep ourselves and our environment healthy.
The EPA is currently proposing non-approval for the air quality of Salt Lake, Utah County and Ogden. This would mean that our current plan for keeping pollution in check would be considered inadequate and we would need to take certain steps in order to be in compliance with national standards. This proposal deals specifically with Airborne Particulate Matter which in coarser form called PM10, but they are also considering non-compliance orders on the finer material, PM2.5.
Many conservative Utahans have a natural distrust for the federal government and federal agencies such as the EPA. This is a respectable and perhaps even admirable trait. But let’s be clear what is at stake here. In the worst dystopias dreamt up by science fiction, people have to wear protective suits or gas masks to even venture outside. Perhaps this scenario is a long way off, but if the characters in these stories could have traveled back in time, don’t you think they would have done whatever was necessary to prevent that from happening? Today in Utah when an inversion sets in and we are forced to wallow in our own smoggy refuse, the elderly and children with asthma are discouraged from even going outside and outdoor exercising for everyone is discouraged except in the morning or evening. If you told this to the settlers of Utah in the 1800s, would it have sounded like science fiction to them?