Logan groups pushing for cleanup of dirty air

Published December 19, 2011 2:32 pm
Logan City Council and school district officials plead with county officials; Cache Valley often has the worst air quality in the nation.
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They say now is the time to clean up Cache Valley's wintertime air pollution.

They fault leaders for doing too little to keep the air healthful enough so that school recess won't have to be canceled on high-pollution days.

They demand simple measures to protect the valley from foul air, possibly including a countywide emissions testing program for motor vehicles.

These are not folks you normally would consider environmental activists. They are members of the Logan City Council and the Logan City School District. And their message is intended for county government officials who have the authority to make some important improvements.

"We can't fiddle around anymore," said Herm Olsen, the outgoing City Council chairman. "We have to do something now."

The council and school board, each with five members, plan to review resolutions in coming weeks that urge the Cache County Council to step up anti-pollution measures.

They say these efforts are essential for cutting PM 2.5 emissions, the microscopic soot from combustion that sometimes gets trapped in the basin air and periodically builds to levels that make the Cache Valley the most polluted spot in the nation for days at a time.

Cache County Council member Craig Peterson, and County Executive Lynn Lemon, did not return calls seeking comment on the latest push for aggressive action on air pollution.

But, pointing to the bathtub full of dirty air the basin sometimes becomes, Olsen said there is no reason to wait for a federal crackdown. "We're just going to have to stop poisoning ourselves voluntarily," he said, "or the federal government will come in and force us to stop poisoning ourselves."

The City Council and the school board had a joint meeting last month where members heard some of the latest information about the depth of the problem and its impact. Experts from the Bear River Health Department and Utah State University told them:

• About 66 percent of the local population is considered especially susceptible to harm from air pollution, because they are very young, very old or have heart or lung trouble.

• About 10 percent of the vehicles cause most of the air pollution, and using an emissions-testing program like Salt Lake and Davis counties already have in place can get at least some of that pollution out of the air.

• Dealing with pollution-related health issues costs about $6 million a year.

Outgoing City Councilwoman Laraine Swenson noted that the city passed a resolution seven years ago seeking mandatory emissions testing. It is an important tool for reducing pollution in a place where a big part of the problem — the valley's basin-shaped topography — cannot be fixed, she pointed out.

When high-pressure weather systems move in, the higher layer of warm air seals in the cold and pollution at ground level — where USU students and Cache Valley families have to breathe it for days and sometimes weeks.

"For the sake of clean air," she said, pollution control through emissions testing "is something the vast majority of Cache County citizens would like to see."

Marshal Garrett, superintendent of Logan Schools, said his board, like the City Council, sees pollution as a significant threat to children's health now and in the future. The school board, which has guidelines for keeping kids indoors during high-pollution days, is expected to take up a resolution next month that urges the Cache County Council to begin taking immediate measures to improve air quality.

He said board members are highly motivated because some of what they learned at the information meeting "was pretty alarming." And the harm isn't limited to the dozen or so days each year with "red" air-quality warnings.

"It's potentially a health challenge for kids, if they are exposed to this over a long period of time," he said.

The federal government has told the state Division of Air Quality to include the Cache Valley in its next-generation plans for reducing PM 2.5 pollution, and work is already under way to do that, noted Lloyd Berentzen, executive director of the Bear River Health Department.

He said the county will have a better idea how to tackle the problem when scientific findings come in from the DAQ.

"We need the teeth that will be put into that" state pollution-control plan, said Berentzen.

Meanwhile, Randy Martin, a USU scientist who has been studying Logan's PM 2.5 problem for years, noted that there are a few strategies to reduce the pollution that will help. The emissions tests alone could cut pollution by as much as 8 percent, he said.

"Even though it might not seem like a large fraction," he said, "it's a step in the direction we need to go."

fahys@sltrib.comTwitter: @2judyfutah —

Emissions testing

Four Utah counties currently require emissions testing for cars, trucks, motor homes and RVs: Salt Lake, Utah, Davis and Weber. As state regulators look for ways to deal with fine particulate matter pollution, emissions testing might also be considered for Tooele, Box Elder and Cache counties.



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