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State officials, meanwhile, say they cannot force metal recyclers to make changes. Bans on burning solid fuels during winter inversions don’t apply to businesses, but most are subject to strict limits on open burning. Burn permits are not issued during stagnant meteorological conditions, except in emergencies.
Torch cutting, however, is not considered open burning because it is not done to dispose of waste, but to process it for milling, according to Utah Division of Air Quality Director Bryce Bird. Sims’ air-quality permit was last amended before Salt Lake Valley was declared out of attainment of federal PM2.5 standards. The agency cannot now retroactively impose tighter emission limits on Sims, considered a "minor source" of air pollution.
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I For some Utahns, inversion season is simply annoying. It means fewer outdoor exercise days, eye and throat irritation, and a less-than-picturesque view. For others, though, the cloud of pollution that clings to the valley floor is a serious threat that exacerbates existing health problems and makes Salt Lake City virtually unlivable in the winter months.
How does poor air quality affect you? The Salt Lake Tribune and KUED Channel 7 want to hear your bad-air-day stories — whether written or video-recorded.
You also may share video stories on Tout at tout.com/sltrib or at #mybadairday on Instagram. The Tribune and KUED will share your stories as part of our ongoing air-quality coverage.
Air-quality town hallThe Tribune’s Jennifer Napier-Pearce will moderate a town-hall discussion on Utah’s air quality challenges with a panel of experts at 7 p.m. Jan. 29 at the Salt Lake City Main Library, 210 E. 400 South. The discussion will be broadcast live on KCPW 88.3/105.3 FM and at sltrib.com. You can submit questions in advance by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
"We don’t have authority to dictate how a business operates," Bird said.
Sims’ permit, amended in 2008 when the facility installed a new shredder, allows it to process up to 322,000 tons of material a year. That kind of volume could yield revenues in excess of $100 million if Sims sells the scrap for $350 a ton, according to industry observers.
The permit caps pollution from the shredder, which is equipped with emission controls. But these limits don’t apply to mobile equipment and fugitive emissions, such as those that come from trucks and torch cutting. Sims torch smoke instead is subject to opacity limits. Smoke should not get so dense that it blocks more than 15 percent of the light passing through it, according to Bird.
Special instruments are used to measure opacity, but they can be used only when the sun is at a certain angle. DAQ conducted a routine opacity test at Sims on Nov. 6 and found smoke in compliance. The test takes opacity readings every 15 seconds and averages them over six minutes.
Officials returned Nov. 26 in response to Odell’s complaints and found smoke levels exceeding the 15 percent threshold. DAQ put the Sims yard on notice that it could be cited and advised managers to apply fans to the torch smoke to thin it out.
But blowers could exacerbate torch emissions by pushing particles upward that otherwise would fall out, Krasicky said.
Meanwhile, it’s hard if not impossible for Odell to know what’s in the smoke wafting over his fence.
"Metals are often alloyed with elements such as lead, chromium, nickel, etc. Surface treatments can include zinc, lead paint, etc. They also cut up old process tanks. Who knows what was previously in these tanks?" Odell wrote in an e-mail to the DAQ.
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