Report: Utah cities among the nation's worst for air quality
The American Lung Association once again is giving many Utah cities failing grades for air pollution.
The advocacy group's 2009 "State of the Air" report released today singles out Salt Lake City as sixth worst in the nation, and Logan is eighth worst for spikes of fine-particle pollution. While no Utah cities landed on the "cleanest" lists for three types of pollution, San Juan County was listed among the cleanest counties in the nation when it comes to ozone pollution.
Utah struggles with ozone in the summer and particulates in the winter.
It turns out that Utah's air quality problems are not much different from the rest of the nation's, according to this year's tally.
"This should be a wake-up call," said Stephen J. Nolan, American Lung Association national board chairman, noting that air pollution is a major threat to human health. "When 60 percent of Americans are left breathing air dirty enough to send people to the emergency room, to shape how kids' lungs develop and to kill, air pollution remains a serious problem."
This year's report noted that pollution has a widespread impact.
In Utah, for instance, roughly half of the population of 2.4 million people is considered part of a "sensitive group" -- that is the young, the old or people with lung disease, heart problems or diabetes who suffer the greatest harm from air pollution.
Cheryl Heying, director of the Utah Division of Air Quality, called the latest "State of the Air" results "nothing new."
She said that while the state agrees "we need to clean up the air," she takes issue with the way the lung association develops its tally. She noted that Utah communities that are out of compliance with federal standards for ozone five times a year get the same score as California communities that exceed the same standards 90 times a year.
"The list itself doesn't help us clean up the air," said Heying, whose division lost two staff positions this year because of budget cuts. "It's the actions" that can improve air quality, she said.
Michelle Hofmann, a pediatrician and member of the Utah Moms for Clean Air, agreed that there aren't any surprises in the report. But she was "disappointed" that Utah's wintertime pollution spikes continue to be a problem that has no easy answer, given the geography, weather and population growth.
Solutions to spikes in fine-particle pollution, she said, "that's where we need to be focusing our energy."
Craig Cutright, executive director of the lung association in Utah, recalled the days when he was growing up and coal-burning led to "a constant black cloud" in the valley.
"I think we've gone a long ways," he said. "It's sobering to think we're flunking, but we have come a long ways."
Cutright said he's hoping a community effort, along with attention by decision-makers in the Capitol, can go still further in improving Utah's air quality.
"We need to put it a little higher on our priority list," he said.
The 2009 report found unhealthy levels of air pollution in nearly every major city.
Fargo, N.D., was the only city that ranked among the cleanest in the State of the Air's three air pollution categories.
Some cities -- including Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. -- have improved their air quality over the past decade.
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